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Steven Spielberg, James L. Brooks, Laura Dern, indie producers Stephanie Allain and Cassian Elwes, Disney-Pixar president Ed Catmull, Imagine Entertainment co-chair Michael Rosenberg and awards consultants Tony Angellotti, Melody Korenbrot and Michele Robertson are among a diverse group of hundreds of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who have thrown their hat in the ring as candidates for the organization’s first truly open board of governors elections.
The board is comprised of three representatives from each of the Academy’s 17 branches — one rep from each branch comes up for election each year — as well as three “diversity governors” appointed by the organization’s president, who is currently Cheryl Boone Isaacs. This group of 54 “directs the Academy’s strategic vision, preserves the organization’s financial health and assures the fulfillment of its mission,” according to the Academy’s website, and it also oversees efforts related to the Oscars and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is scheduled to open in 2017.
In early April, the incumbent board — which includes the likes of Tom Hanks, Kathleen Kennedy, Michael Mann, Amy Pascal and Jim Gianopulos, and which has been somewhat embattled in the aftermath of its response to the second #OscarsSoWhite controversy — voted to overhaul the system through which governors are elected. In the words of CEO Dawn Hudson, the board replaced “a procedure that many felt was confusing and cumbersome” with one that is “more democratic, more transparent” and will “significantly expand the pool of possible candidates” to produce a board that is “representative of our entire membership.”
In past years, each branch’s members elected only one-half of a nominating committee that, in turn, prepared a slate of candidates for the board. “Now, you will choose your candidates directly,” Hudson wrote before encouraging members — of which there are roughly 7,000 spread across 17 branches — to consider running.
This week, all members received a link to the members-only section of the Academy’s website, wherein they could read the names of all who had expressed a desire to run for the board (from only their branch), as well as a statement from some of them (providing one was only made an option after The Hollywood Reporter provided such a forum first). Now, members are asked to select four candidates from their branch’s list, and the four highest vote-getters will appear on the final ballot in June. Results will be announced in July.
The Academy does not make public a list of its candidates for the board (or its overall membership). But THR can exclusively report that candidates include 36 members of the actors branch, including incumbent Ed Begley, Jr., as well as Dern, Veronica Cartwright, Illeana Douglas, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Stephen Lang, Edward James Olmos, Tatum O’Neal, Mimi Rogers and Pippa Scott. (Among other candidates who are perhaps less famous but would bring greater diversity to the board are Argentianian Hector Elias; Robert Hooks, a co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company; and newly installed Native American member Sonny Skyhawk.)
Also in the running are 12 members of the directors branch, including Spielberg, who is seeking to replace Kathryn Bigelow; eight members of the writers branch, including incumbent Robin Swicord and Brooks, Julie Delpy, Todd Field, Larry Karaszewski and James Schamus; 48 members of the producers branch, including incumbent Mark Johnson, as well as Elwes, Stephanie Allain, Ashok Amritraj, Bonnie Arnold, Michael De Luca, Denise Di Novi, Broderick Johnson and Janet Yang; 11 members of the costume designers branch; 20 members of the sound branch, including David Gray and Doug Greenfield; 32 members of the visual effects branch, including Catmull; and 40 members of the public relations branch, including incumbent Nancy Utley and former governor Rob Friedman (unseated last year by Marvin Levy), as well as Rosenberg, Angellotti, Korenbrot, Robertson, veterans Henri Bollinger, Vivian Boyer, Hollace Davids, Steve Flynn, Laura Kim, Don Levy, Al Newman, Ira Rubenstein and perhaps the most outspoken critic of the Academy’s response to #OscarsSoWhite, Bruce Feldman.
The significant number of declared candidates could be seen as a manifestation of member frustration with the current board. However, according to members from across the branches, few of the candidates’ platforms directly reflect this — in fact, many candidates provided only biographical information, or no comment at all.
One member suggested that platforms should have been mandatory: “What do you mean ‘optional statement’? This is the whole basis of why you would or wouldn’t vote for somebody. Are we supposed to continue the age-old practice of picking people based on where they are in the business or who they know?” Another added, “The big names wind up winning and then never communicate with the membership.”
One incumbent who provided a statement and touted her record is the PR branch’s Utley, who wrote: “I’m very proud to have been part of the exciting changes that have happened in the Academy over the past three years, moving us toward transparency and inclusion. In fact, the process you’re engaged in right now, choosing a governor through popular elections for the first time, is a direct result of actions by the current governors.”
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