Many in the next class of invitees to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will have to conduct an exercise that didn’t trouble their predecessors: That is, a risk assessment.
In the past, there was little downside to joining Hollywood’s film academy—just the expense of annual dues, currently $350 per member, and the remote possibility that some scoundrel would grab and post your marked screeners to the Internet, embroiling you in a piracy mess.
But reports that Academy president John Bailey, a noted cinematographer, is now the subject of an internal review under the group’s recently established process for rooting out those who “abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency” underscore a stark new reality. Academy membership carries not just privileges, but, at least for some, considerable risk.
Simply put, the new decency review procedures, communicated to current members in January, open a fresh point of attack for adversaries or accusers who want to right a wrong, or settle a score. Under the system, as described in a letter to members, it is easy to make a complaint: The Academy will consider a written claim filed on an online form, or even a telephone complaint, which may have to be followed by written details. The incident may be old or new—the letter to members said nothing about a statute of limitations. As for validity, it must have been witnessed by or reported to “another,” or have been “memorialized in writing,” or be part of an established pattern of behavior by the accused, or have resulted in “verifiable changes” in the mental, emotional or physical well-being of the accuser.
In other words, a member’s exposure is very broad—possibly broader than it would be under written behavioral standards at many companies, and certainly extending beyond the reach of any simple prohibition against unwanted sexual advances of the sort that got Harvey Weinstein expelled from the Academy.
On receiving a complaint, the Academy may choose to take no action. Or it may investigate the complaint, and ultimately consider suspension or expulsion of a member who is found to have violated the code.
In theory, this all occurs in private. But, as the Bailey case illustrates, leaks are inevitable, especially when the accused member is prominent, as many are. So an accusation or accusations that could be 14 or 15 years old, details unknown to the public, from an accuser whose identity is protected by the Academy, may suddenly explode online, doing reputational damage that might or might not be cleaned up by Academy comment when the review is complete.
Last year, 774 candidates were invited to join the Academy. How many actually accepted is not clear, as the death and retirement of existing members affected membership growth, which was pegged at around 580.
But this year, the acceptance rate—whatever it has been in the past—will likely be lower, as invitees with even the hint of a skeleton rattling in the closet decide that it would be easier, and perhaps wiser, to decline.