New Blood in AMPAS’ Exec Ranks Might Rub off on Oscarcast

Acad continues to pursue some stubbornly anachronistic policies

Peter Bart Oscar

Behind-the-scenes campaigning is under way to select your successor as Academy president, Hawk, so this is the moment to do some last-minute pushing and prodding. For despite the several smart steps you have taken during your brief tenure, the high-minded but elitist Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to pursue some stubbornly anachronistic policies.

You’re an old friend, Hawk, but whenever I’ve asked your thoughts about doing a column on the Academy, you’ve given me that “you’ve got to be kidding” stare that you’ve always reserved for those semi-crazed film directors you’ve skillfully shepherded during your long producing career.

But it’s time to address some troubling issues still facing the Academy, some involving showmanship, others involving leadership. Let’s start with the simplest: The flatulent Oscar show has to be shorter, even if sound and short subjects and a few other branches have to go off camera (I know they’ll fight that to the death). Further, it’s troubling that you gave another shot to the same Oscar producers (Neil Meron and Craig Zadan) who made a mess last time out. You didn’t even wait to study the results of a questionnaire sent to the 6,000 Academy members to discover their views (the first such survey in 85 years).

I realize the time pressures involved, but what was once a sedate selection process has become surreal — witness the hiring and firing of Brett Ratner and Bob Iger’s veto of Jimmy Fallon. On more profound issues, Hawk, it’s clearly time for the Academy to take a more forceful stand on diversity and to look at expanding membership to build a younger and more representative constituency. The various branches could be reminded of prospective minority members who have been overlooked. Finally, the Academy quietly hired a bright diversity expert from the NAACP in Vic Bulluck. Meanwhile, Hawk, heed the advice of your female members — there has not been a woman on the nominating committee of the executive branch since Mary Pickford. Coincidentally, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the talented African-American woman who produced the Governors Award show, has a shot at becoming president of the old boys’ club even though insiders are convinced that Rob Friedman will succeed you.

Then there’s the question of the vaunted museum that’s set to open in 2017; it’s fine to talk about the lavish exterior design but who is thinking about what goes on inside the stylish facade? Who is in charge of planning a vibrant, populist, interactive program that reflects the “show” as well as the “business?”

You’ve done some important things in your one-year term, Hawk; as a long-time Academy member I was excited to see the huge turnout at the the first open meeting in May. It was a striking reminder of the respect and loyalty that infuses the organization. But the pre-planned discussion steered clear of key matters on members’ minds. I am glad that foreign-language DVDs will be distributed to all voting members, but was that really worth half the meeting?

Your electronic voting initiatives also are working superbly, and Dawn Hudson has helped spearhead important progress on the museum as well as some smart program changes — filmmakers and actors are now invited to speak at Academy screenings. But now, Hawk, your term is up, and a spirit of change is in the air. On the first Tuesday in August wisps of white smoke will billow from the Academy rooftop as another president is secretly selected. According to tradition, those candidates receiving the fewest votes will quietly withdraw, and the first to cross the 50% barrier will be declared the winner. One-third of the 43 governors also will be replaced. The governors take their role very seriously. Several years ago when I facetiously proposed that, as the only journalist in the Academy, I should be accorded my own branch, the response was a lengthy treatise explaining why this would be a deviation from Academy policy (I am actually a member of the producers branch).

As a street-smart, battle-scarred veteran of the film wars, Hawk, you have a better sense of humor about these affairs. You have brought energy and perspective to the office, and I applaud you for your (unpaid) efforts. So join with me in pushing some of these future initiatives which will help create a more representative Academy and a more diverse industry — and may even help produce a better Oscar show.