It’s been a turbulent year at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, as an ambitious plan to diversify its ranks led to internal backlash. Some of the most vocal critics have accused the Board of Governors of bowing to outside political pressure when it announced plans in January to double minority and female membership by 2020. Many have also resisted the Academy’s plan, announced simultaneously, to transfer some older members who are no longer active in the business to non-voting status.
The controversy spilled into this year’s board elections, as a handful of members campaigned on a pledge to overturn the board’s actions. But the results of the first round of voting were announced to members on Thursday night, and it appears the internal revolt has mostly fizzled out.
Only one critic of the Board — Bruce Feldman, in the Academy’s public relations branch — finished among the top four contenders in his or her branch, earning advancement to the final round of voting. William Goldstein, who was among the most outspoken opponents, did not advance in the music branch.
“A lot of the people who ran did not address these issues at all,” Feldman said. “They’re running on the old-fashioned, I’m-a-good-guy-vote-for-me.”
Laura Karpman, a candidate in the music branch, did take a firm stand in support of the Academy’s diversity initiative. She advanced to the final round of voting.
“I think what the Academy is trying to do is be in a leadership position, which is exactly the right place for the Academy to be,” she said. “Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you get backlash. Sometimes people become afraid. But good leadership is about pushing those boundaries.”
Members in each of the 17 branches will now elect a member from among the finalists. Steven Spielberg is among the four candidates in the directors’ branch. Ed Begley Jr., is running for re-election in the acting branch against Laura Dern, Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos. The winners will be announced in mid-July.
“It’s a lot of the same old people who have been around,” said Gary Shapiro, a critic of the board who ran in the public relations branch but was not among the finalists. “I think the Academy has learned a bit from the reaction they got.”
Many of the critics have said they support diversity, but were disturbed at the idea that members could be forced into “emeritus” status simply because they haven’t worked in a while. Some were also offended that it appeared the Academy seemed to be blaming its older members — who are disproportionately white and male — for the lack of non-white nominees.
“Saying the membership is racist — it’s insulting for one thing,” said Stuart Gordon, who ran in the directors branch but was not among the finalists. “When we were made members, it was for life. Now to get into an inquisition — to say ‘prove to me you’ve been working’ — I don’t think we have to. To have to go through that is insulting.”
In a statement, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson defended the board’s handling of the issue.
“We’ve engaged our members in this process – along with other wide-ranging inclusion initiatives – to make sure the Academy remains as relevant in the future of our community as it has been for the past 88 years,” Hudson said.
Since the emeritus plan was first announced, the Academy has revised its criteria and it now appears that very few members will be affected — not enough to affect the overall diversity of the organization. “It’s a handful (of people),” said Robin Swicord, a board member in the writers branch, who is up for re-election.
If members are still at all connected to the industry, chances are their status is secure. “If they have been selling real estate for the last 30 years,” Swicord said, “they won’t be kicked out of the Academy but they’ll be moved to this different status.”
The Academy branches are working on lists of members who will be moved to non-voting status, and are expected to notify those members sometime this summer.