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John Bailey Elected President of the Motion Picture Academy

In a surprise victory, cinematographer John Bailey has been elected the 36th president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that annually presents the Oscars for excellence in filmmaking. The decision was made Tuesday night at a monthly meeting of the AMPAS board of governors.

The new Academy leader will succeed exiting president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who served a maximum four-year term in the role and, along with CEO Dawn Hudson, oversaw many dramatic shifts in the movie monolith’s demographical makeup and procedural status quo.

Bailey, 74, is a dark-horse winner. His credits include “Ordinary People,” “American Gigolo,” “The Big Chill,” “Groundhog Day,” “As Good as It Gets,”  “The Anniversary Party,” “The Way Way Back” and “A Walk in the Woods.” In 2014 he received the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award, but he has never received an Oscar nomination.

Casting director David Rubin (who was re-upped as secretary) was also said to be in the mix. Actress Laura Dern was a preferred choice for Hudson and many on the board, but her on-screen career dominates her time at the moment. Sources say she proposed a co-presidency, but in the end, she did not run for the position.

Many Academy members were hoping for another woman or a person of color to follow Isaacs. When Isaacs was first elected in 2013, there was much attention paid to the fact that she was the third female — and first person of color — to ever hold the post.

But the board may feel it has nothing to prove. A black woman has served as Academy president for four years, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was this year’s best-picture Oscar winner (three years after Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”), and the Academy has received a lot of attention for its moves to increase diversity throughout the membership and on the board.

The 54-member panel also elected new officers Tuesday. They are:

Lois Burwell, First Vice President (chair, Awards and Events Committee)
Kathleen Kennedy, Vice President (chair, Museum Committee)
Michael Tronick, Vice President (chair, Preservation and History Committee)
Nancy Utley, Vice President (chair, Education and Outreach Committee)
Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer (chair, Finance Committee)
David Rubin, Secretary (chair, Membership and Administration Committee)

Key items on Bailey’s agenda will be the organization’s museum project and ongoing questions about the Oscars show amid falling ratings. The new leader also has a time-consuming demand with membership concerns; the Academy has vowed to continue increasing numbers for women and minorities by 2020.

Additionally, the president has the power to nominate three governors-at-large, an innovation as of March 2016. Filmmakers Reginald Hudlin, Gregory Nava and Jennifer Yuh Nelson make up the current trio.

Isaacs and other recent presidents have been involved with Academy business 24/7, but that isn’t necessarily part of the job description. Many past presidents have been more or less figureheads, essentially the public face of the Academy for PR purposes. But that alone presents a lot of time demands, including attending AMPAS functions around the world and, crucially, becoming a lure at events to raise funds for the museum.

Dawn Hudson has ultimate authority over that mammoth project, which faces many hurdles including rising costs and the re-channeling of funds from longtime Academy projects (such as scholarships, film preservation and other programs). There is also the question of filmmaker George Lucas’ planned museum, which was announced for Los Angeles long after the Academy project was underway, yet threatens to overshadow its impact.

The president and other AMPAS officers are elected for a one-year term. The Academy maintains an old-fashioned method in filling chief brass positions: no one formally announces candidacy. Interested parties simply let it be known internally that they are willing and eager to serve, and then proceed to build a base of support among board members.

A total of 33 individuals have held the title of Academy president. Return engagements are rare; in the organization’s 90-year history, only Walter Wanger and Robert Rehme have been elected to second tenures.

The president also must be a board member, and can only serve as president for four consecutive years. The vast majority of previous presidents were above-the-line names, including inaugural president Douglas Fairbanks and high-profile talents like Frank Capra, George Stevens, Gregory Peck and Karl Malden. Only three presidents have been women (Bette Davis, Fay Kanin and Isaacs).

Bailey is beginning his first term as president and his 14th year as a governor.  Gianopulos, Kennedy, Rubin and Utley were re-elected to their posts. This will be the first officer stint for Burwell and Tronick.

Despite being eligible to return to the board after her run as president, Isaacs opted out of seeking re-election to the public relations branch in July. She leaves behind a legacy that is and will continue to be thoroughly dissected as the Academy finds itself dragged — sometimes kicking and screaming — into a new era.

(Tim Gray also contributed to this report.)

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