Come Monday, film producer and executive Bill Mechanic’s sizzling letter of resignation from the governing board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—which he has since said was not intended for public consumption—will set the agenda for what might be the most interesting Academy board election since, well, ever.
Though he effectively stepped down as one of the Academy’s 54 current governors on April 9, Mechanic’s letter of explanation to president John Bailey leaked publicly only this week. In it, he described a list of perceived problems and leadership failures that have been discussed endlessly within the Academy, but almost never in open conversation. It’s all there: The Oscar ratings collapse; the never-ending museum expense; staff churn; deep concern at the attempts to enforce a moral policy; fear that inclusion now trumps achievement; suspicion that some internal player leaked word of a harassment claim against Bailey in order to compromise him; and, above all, frustration that what might be a “silent majority” of board members is being overruled by what Mechanic calls a “vocal few.”
Intentionally or otherwise, the disclosure of Mechanic’s plaint makes it the central artifact in an election that begins on April 23, with a call for candidates who want to fill 17 contested slots on the Academy’s 54-member board. The cattle call will remain open until Friday, April 27. A nominating vote in each of the Academy’s branches, which will elect one new governor apiece, will occur between May 14 and May 18. Final voting will occur between June 4 and June 8. Meanwhile, the Academy will post candidates’ statements on an internal Web site. And no one who wants to be taken seriously can avoid addressing The Letter.
In the not-so-distant past, Academy board elections were a muted affair. It was considered unseemly to campaign for slots that were more or less bestowed by fellow club members. More recently, there appeared to be more concern with identity than issues. To include more women and people of color, the group added three diversity slots to the board, to be filled by presidential appointment (and apparently not up for review until March, when the current holders’ three-year terms expire). At the Academy’s Margaret Herrick library, the search page for information on past and present governors even includes a helpful check-box that will limit your results to ‘women only.’
This time, however, potential governors are sure to be talking about the museum, or the management skills of Academy chief executive Dawn Hudson, or the implications of a leak that used the brand-new morality review process to tarnish Bailey.
To handicap internal Academy politics is probably beyond even those who sit on the group’s oversized board, which has more than tripled since 1927, when just 15 governors, led by Douglas Fairbanks, ran the show. But a few things are clear. Tom Hanks, who has usually seemed a moderating force, will be gone: He has served his allotted nine consecutive years as a governor representing the actors branch, and must take at least a year off. The same applies to Jim Bissell of the designers branch and to Bill Kroyer of short films and animation.
Unless they choose to follow Mechanic out the door, 14 incumbents will have to stand for re-election, having served a three-year term. Those include the producer Kathleen Kennedy, who has generally stood by Hudson, and the costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who sometimes sees things differently. Bailey’s wife, the film editor Carol Littleton, is up for re-election. So is Michael Mann, a tough old bull of a director, and Jim Gianopulos, who, as treasurer, can best judge whether the Academy will be swamped by its $300 million-plus in museum bonds.
Others incumbents who could stand for another three-year term are Bernard Telsey, of the casting directors; Daryn Okada, of the cinematographers; Rory Kennedy, from the documentary branch; Lois Burwell, from the make-up and hairstylists branch; Michael Giacchino, from the music branch; Marvin Levy, from the public relations branch; Scott Millan from the sound branch; John Knoll, from the visual effects branch; and Billy Ray, from the writers. If any of those have belonged to Mechnic’s “silent majority,” they will have to speak up. Because, as of Monday, they are sure to have some vocal challengers.