Now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has deferred its proposed “Best Popular Picture” Oscar for further study, here’s a modest proposal: Why not make this an Article XI, Section 1(b) issue?
Believe it or not, there is a mechanism by which Academy members — all 9,000-plus of them — can be directly included in particularly important decisions.
Ordinarily, the group’s 54-member Board of Governors holds plenary power. It can admit some members, exclude others, hire executives, defend against lawsuits and decide what awards should be given and under what rules. If need be, the governors also can change their own bylaws. That typically requires 10 days’ notice of a pending revision and approval by two-thirds of the entire board.
Reading through what archivists at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library say are the current bylaws (as revised on April 5, 2016), it appears that the new “pop” Oscar — which stirred controversy in the ranks after being announced last month — probably could slip by without such a revision. As they stand, the bylaws say the Academy should grant Oscars in 16 specified areas (acting, writing, sound, directing and so on). But they don’t specify all the existing sub-categories. When it comes to writing, for instance, the bylaws don’t explicitly mandate separate Oscars for Best Original and Adapted screenplays.
So there seems to be some wiggle room. And a Best Popular Picture conceivably could be created as a sub-class of the Best Picture category, just as leading and supporting actress and actors are sub-groups of the generally mandated “acting” award.
But with that said, the Academy, when it created the Best Animated Feature Oscar back in 2001, saw fit to write that change into the bylaws. Presumably, the decision to give animated features an Oscar of their own was important enough to merit the equivalent of a constitutional amendment.
Which is where things get interesting. Under the aforementioned Article XI, Section 1(b), the bylaws can be changed by a majority vote of all active and life members of the Academy on the day the vote is counted. More, Article XI, Section 2 says the normal governors’ revision should give way to a general vote if the board “determines that a given issue makes the second method more appropriate.”
So why not? What issue could more appropriately involve the Academy’s growing membership than a core decision as to whether any of the regular Oscars should face a popularity test?
An Academy-wide vote on a matter of importance certainly would underscore the group’s new insistence that membership involves responsibility, both for personal conduct, and for the policies and posture of the film industry at large.
If the governors are feeling especially bold, they might even offer a second proposition: opening some portion of their regular deliberations to the members. Currently, that would be complicated severely by Article IV, Section 4, of the bylaws, which demands secrecy. It says, “In accepting membership on the Board, each member shall accept responsibility for maintaining the confidentiality of Board matters and acting in an appropriate manner to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of information.”
But consider the possibilities. Board transparency. A member referendum on the defining issue of class versus mass. Those steps could go a long way toward the Academy’s oft-stated goal of maintaining its relevance — but only if the governors are brave enough to take them.