John Bailey Elected President of the Motion Picture Academy

John Bailey

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.


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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.


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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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  1. JEF says:

    Class operator, legendary cinematographer. Could not have picked a bette human to represent! Great call!!

  2. Not American says says:

    How sad that diversity means black; that is what is mentioned above. Two film makers from Mexico does not count when discussing diversity. What a sad statement.

  3. Crystal Brooks says:

    They wanted Laura Dern. A white female. She had to decline. So they picked someone else with great credentials. How was Laura Dern more qualified then this guy? Shouldn’t leadership positions be based on qualifications and skills first? They have made great strides in improving diversity. Isn’t it reverse discrimination to disparage this guy simply because he’s a white male?

    • Pragmatic Independent says:

      How typical of someone like you to automatically assume the woman or minority is LESS qualified than the the white guy and must therefore ONLY be getting the job due to affirmative action.

  4. Steven Solomon says:

    An article about the new Academy president has quickly become a discussion about diversity within the Academy. The many racist comments only proves how much work remains to be done. I applaud the Academy’s effort to increase diversity. There are plenty of examples of worthy women and people of color who have ever been overlooked by the nominations. I believe the lack of a diverse membership is the biggest reason why. Not because members are racist or sexist, but a more diverse membership will have more diverse nominees. It’s common sense and human nature. I also believe affirmative action has a place in solving decades old problems of institutional racism and sexism, so if the Academy shifts the bar a little, so be it. We’re talking movie makers, not NASA scientists. The nominations and winners of last year alone does not mean the problem has been solved. That is why the Academy should not go back to business as usual and the new membership effort for diversity remains important. The Academy alone cannot solve the problem of institutional racism and sexism in the industry. That is no excuse to then do nothing at all. Waiting for others to fix the problem is only prolonging it. Just because you can’t do everything, does not mean you do nothing. On this I agree with the Academy. They got it right, should continue the effort, and deserve respect for it.

  5. Joanna says:

    Boone has been president when the Academy’s new museum not only has not taken far longer to be completed but has gone way over budget.

    She certainly doesn’t deserve blame for the infamous mis-handling of envelopes for Best Picture in 2017, but she has been symbolically the head of AMPAS during a time when a dreary, I’m-a-loser movie like Moonlight got the nod (instead of something as remarkable and uplifting as Hidden Figures), when its long-talked-about museum has been struggling, and when the Academy and film business in general are looking increasingly aimless and mediocre.

  6. Momus15 says:

    Thank goodness a FILMMAKER was elected to this position, after seeing this once-hallowed organization dumbed down by a PR exec and a woman who almost killed the IFC awards. They invited people who had maybe 2 or 3 films to their credit to join the most-honoured organization for filmmakers, kind of like the new rules in Little League, where every little kid who plays gets a trophy, even if they finish last. Congratulations, John – good luck!

  7. Andrej says:

    Kris, I have no idea what’s going on in this comment section, but even as a reader I feel sorry for this derailment. A new person was elected president of AMPAS. End of story.

  8. HBO President of Awesometown says:

    He’s older than 74. Look at the picture. And why don’t people in Hollywood know when to retire?

    Does anyone think a 78 (at the least) year-old is in touch with the modern entertainment landscape?

    • The Truth says:

      The AMPAS Board of Governors, who’ve worked with Bailey for 14 years in the academy, believe he is the best person to lead their organization. Obviously, they’re not disgustingly ageist jerks like you.

      • HBO President of Awesometown says:

        There is no shame in retiring. For some reason, we’ve forgotten that.

  9. Cordelia MaCherre says:

    a white man is the president, and the Right are STILL complaining? You got what you wanted because you hate everyone who isn’t white, why are you still complaining?

  10. Gc says:

    Do not fall for affirmative action nor political correctness. Let democracy vote. Obama was pres for 8 years and he nearly ruined the country. Skin color nor sex should be a factor.

    • Mark says:

      The economy is historically better under Democrats–indisputable historical fact. bush left America in financial shambles, with the largest tax hike in U.S. History–otherwise known as the Iraq war. President Obama stable zed the xiuntry and it recovered.

      Now little donny drumpf’s erratic/psychotic behavior is undoing it all.

    • The Truth says:

      Get your head out of your ass. Bush left office with the country on the brink of financial ruin. Obama brought the nation back to financial stability. These are facts. Democracy — the popular vote — chose Clinton by more than three million votes. Bureaucracy — the Electoral College — chose Trump.

      • pickles says:

        Obama spent 10 trillion dollars during his terms. So whatever he was doing was not the right thing.

  11. Leon says:

    @MC Squared: Yeah but White Domination has been in effect for decades and decades, can’t you all Staunch White folk just learn to share just once!

    • Pushmi-Pullyou says:

      In all seriousness: why should we? If you had the power…would you give it up?

      • Pushmi-Pullyou says:

        Yeah…we’re not a democracy. We’re a Republic. Never funnier when someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, tries to correct someone else.
        And since when did power have anything to do with governments or laws or societal rights? You obviously don’t operate in the real world.

      • The Truth says:

        If you’re actually serious, read the Constitution. Democracy is about the equal sharing of power.

  12. MC Squared says:

    Another example of how liberal identity politics will ruin the country. Desired outcomes based on race, gender or culture – this case for AMPAS, what’s next – juries, elections, corporate boards, teachers, coaches, police officers, etc, etc, etc. – no longer the best person but the best black person, or the best latino person (heaven forbid the best white person)….

    • The Truth says:

      Bull. What you call liberal identity politics are enlightened, corrective actions to ensure that citizens of all races, genders, or cultures are not unfairly excluded from equal opportunities in our country. Although you may prefer is otherwise, the best white person for the job is not necessarily the best person for the job. But for most of our history, the best white male has been given preferential treatment, while women and non-whites have been denied their just due.

  13. Curmudgeon10 says:

    Disappointed you didn’t provide the skin color, national origin, and gender preferences of all those mentioned in this column so readers could judge whether the “correct” selections had been made. You must do better.

  14. PHILLIP M COHEN says:

    Because Hollywood has become in the last couple of decades more concerned about presenting with a false notion of diversity than quality entertainment, fewer and fewwr human beings actually care,

  15. Golden Rudy says:

    If not for overseas ticket sales, would Hollywood make even a dollar? Popcorn sales are exceeding tickets sales in America. LOL!

  16. John Dendy says:

    Excuse me? Who gives a crap? Not me. I seldom go to movies any more. I won’t pay to see liberal propaganda.

    • Dennis Brian says:

      The fact that you think movies have much to do with liberal propaganda shows how little you go to the movies

  17. LAurie Bay says:

    The Academy needs to learn that you never satisfy leftist activists with tokens.
    They do not stop until they completely destroy the organization, until it has nothing to do with art or film, and everything to do with their politics.You people who think that you are “proving” something by electing someone of a certain sex, or skin color and then they will be satisfied…you are the one they want gone…

    • The Truth says:

      So when a woman or person of color is elected to an AMPAS post or invited to join the academy, it’s tokenism. Only in your biased brain.

  18. millerfilm says:

    Issacs’ Legacy = Turning the Academy into a politically-correct joke.

    • Mark says:

      Non whites can be racist. spike lee being a prime example. But his race isn’t why he’s not successful. His lack of talent is.

    • Iván el Conquistador says:

      I couldn’t have said it better myself. Awards are meant to reward creativity and innovation, not SJW and PC propaganda.

      • Phil Cohen says:

        Emma Lee’s “certainty” about what Iván el Conquistador is interested in knowing is a perfect example of what is wrong. Those self-satisfied “we know what is best, and any opinions other than ours are hateful and hurtful” rants in the name of diversity would be funny if they were confined to TV sitcoms. Unfortunately, they are not, leaving, in this country alone, a couple of hundreds of million people to deal with these mental inbreds.

      • Emma Lee says:

        Hopefully, you know that you could have said it better….The president is not an artist. They are not rewarded for creativity and innovation; therefore, the current president has never won an Oscar. The presidency is based on what you can do for the organization as well as popularity. Are all you people ignorant? Rhetorical.

      • Emma Lee says:

        I disagree. Since I’m not white and racist, I can look at things objectively. (Asian-since I’m POSITIVE you’re interested in knowing). She started a process of……oh wait, why am I generating a common sense dialogue with an ignorant boy. How’s that “writing” career working for you? :) :)

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