EXCLUSIVE: In its continuing effort to add transparency to the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences operates, the Board Of Governors approved Tuesday night a major change in the way their own members are chosen. Beginning immediately, every voting member of the 6,200-plus organization can now run for Governor directly. Previously — due to a procedure Academy CEO Dawn Hudson called “confusing and cumbersome” — the membership elected only one half of a nominating committee that in turn prepared a slate of candidates for the Board. Often the same names would be in the running year after year. Going forward, members of each branch will choose their candidates directly.
In an email to the membership late Wednesday night, Hudson praised the move. “This new process is more democratic, more transparent, and one that will significantly expand the pool of possible candidates,” Hudson wrote. “These changes will strengthen our leadership to ensure that it is both representative of our entire membership and well-equipped to guide our large and complex organization,” she wrote. The rule change increases the likelihood of encouraging and having more diverse voices in a position to be elected to the Board — a fact implied, if not spelled out, in Hudson’s letter. At its March meeting the Board approved the almost unprecedented addition of three new Governor positions for minority members, adding African American director Reginald Hudlin, Latino writer Gregory Nava and Asian American Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the latter joining the Governors of the short films and feature animation branch.
“The nominations process has been a closed one for years. This is a sea change in terms of improving governance at the Academy.” — AMPAS PR branch member Bruce Feldman.
In her email Hudson made a direct plea to members to run. “As an important first step in making this new system work, we hope that you will seriously consider opting in to be a potential candidate yourself. I cannot stress how critical it is that as many members as possible volunteer their time and talents both for our Academy, and for the entire motion picture community,” she said, describing what they are looking for candidates for a position that involves attending seven board meetings a year as well as various committee meetings. Board members also vote on Honorary Oscar recipients for the annual Governors Awards. Each branch is repped by three Governors who are elected to three year terms and can serve a total of three of those terms consecutively if re-elected.
Hudson noted there are no prerequisites and you don’t have to be nominated to run. In her letter she included a link to begin the process and set April 30 as a deadline for nominations. Conceivably the Academy could have hundreds of candidates, even outnumbering those who have been in the running for the GOP Presidential nomination (okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration). The Academy’s own primary season continues in May, when they will distribute the list of members for each branch who have opted in and will then ask each branch member to select four candidates who will make up the slate for their branch. Elections will be held in June and new Governors will be announced in late July. Typically a third of the Board is up for re-election each year.
One longtime member tells me he is throwing his hat in the ring after saying his desire to run for Governor in the past was thwarted by what he describes as an opaque, restrictive nominating process. “The nominations process has been a closed one for years,” said PR branch member Bruce Feldman. “This is a sea change in terms of improving governance at the Academy. I will run for Governor and it will be on a platform.” Feldman noted that a “platform” has not been the norm in these kinds of BOG elections. “For the first time in the 30 years I’ve been a member, my fellow branch members will know exactly what I intend to do for them and for the Academy.” He says he feels it is imperative to get feedback from members on major policy issues before the board deliberates and has been an outspoken critic of some Academy procedures. The BOG position for which he, and presumably quite a few others just in that one branch, will be running is currently held by Fox Searchlight Co-President Nancy Utley, whose first three year term is up. She also has the option to run for re-election.
The Academy also has been actively recruiting new members in a wide ranging global outreach designed to bring in “new candidates (for membership) who are part of our diverse contemporary film culture and who represent the global reach of the Academy” according to an email that went out to members of the PR branch last month, urging them to suggest names by a deadline of today, April 7. The deadline for new member applications was actually a couple of weeks ago but it was extended to allow more time for the search. The new member class will be announced this year in late June. That letter concluded that “an active, engaged and participatory membership, with a spirit of inclusion, will further advance our organization” and was signed by the three current Public Relations branch members — Utley, Marvin Levy and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the latter maintaining her position as a PR Governor while still in the midst of her third term as President of the organization. She will be up for re-election for a fourth and final term as President this summer.