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Bill Mechanic Blasts Academy Leadership in Farewell Letter

Producer Bill Mechanic issued a blistering broadside against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in a letter resigning from the Board of Governors last week.

The letter, obtained by Variety, faults the Academy’s diversity push, says the Oscar broadcast is “long and boring,” and takes issue with the handling of sexual harassment allegations against the Academy president, John Bailey. It also takes swipes at Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, without mentioning her by name, and calls on the remaining board members to “change the leadership” of the institution.

“I haven’t had any real impact, so now it’s time to leave,” he wrote. “I feel I have failed the organization. I feel we have failed the organization.”

Mechanic confirmed to Variety that he wrote the letter, but declined to comment further.

“This was a private letter. It should have stayed private,” he said. “It says what it says.”

Mechanic, a former 20th Century Fox executive, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for best picture for producing “Hacksaw Ridge.” In the letter, he argued that the Oscar show is losing viewers by nominating smaller films.

“[O]ver the past decade we have nominated so many smaller independent films that the Oscars feel like they should be handed out in a tent,” he wrote, referencing the Spirit Awards which are held in a large tent at the beach. “Big is not inherently bad and small is not inherently good.”

He also took issue with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is over budget and behind schedule, and criticized Hudson, saying the “CEO role has become much broader and far reaching, and the results are erratic at best.” He also said there has been a “purge” of Academy staff over the last seven years, since Hudson took the helm.

Mechanic has previously questioned the Academy’s decision to issue a code of conduct in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. In the letter, he again says it was a mistake to play “Moral Police.”

“We have settled on numeric answers to the problem of inclusion, barely recognizing that this is the Industry’s problem far, far more than it is the Academy’s,” he wrote. “Instead we react to pressure. One Governor even went as far as suggesting we don’t admit a single white male to the Academy, regardless of merit!”

“Many of the problems I’m talking about come not from malfeasance but rather from the silence of too many Governors,” he continued, urging the board to speak up. “Not facing your problems means you are not addressing those issues and, guess what, problems don’t go away — they simmer under the surface and, if anything, get worse.”

In a statement earlier in the day, the Academy thanked Mechanic for his five years of service to the Board.

News of the letter was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

The letter:

John Bailey
President, AMPAS

Dear John:

There’s a moment when if you fail to make an impact, the right thing to do is make for the exits. After Saturday’s meeting, I’m at that moment and I respectfully must resign from the Board of Governors.

I have great love and respect for the Academy. I grew up loving movies and watching the Academy Awards, never dreaming of being a nominee, producing the show, and certainly not becoming a Governor. Eventually all of these things actually came to pass and it was exciting when I was originally elected to the Board, serving with so many distinguished legends side-by-side in a non-hierarchical environment.

I left the Board after one term, but decided to run again a couple of years ago when many of the decisions of the Board seemed to me to be reactive rather than considered. I felt I could help provide some perspective and guidance.

But it’s exceedingly clear to me since returning to the Board that things have changed and there is now a fractured environment which does not allow for a unified, strategically sound, vision. I haven’t had any real impact, so now it’s time to leave.

I feel I have failed the organization. I feel we have failed the organization.

We have settled on numeric answers to the problem of inclusion, barely recognizing that this is the Industry’s problem far, far more than it is the Academy’s. Instead we react to pressure. One Governor even went as far as suggesting we don’t admit a single white male to the Academy, regardless of merit!

We have failed to move the Oscars into the modern age, despite decades of increased competition and declining ratings. Instead, we have kept to the same number of awards, which inherently means a long and boring show, and over the past decade we have nominated so many smaller independent films that the Oscars feel like they should be handed out in a tent. Big is not inherently bad and small is not inherently good. Moving into the modern age does not mean competing with the Emmys for non-theatrical features.

We have failed to solve the problems of the Museum, which is ridiculously over its initial budget and way past its original opening date. Despite having the best of the best inside the Academy membership, we have ignored the input of our Governors and our members.

We have failed our employees. Over the past seven years, we have watched dedicated employees of the Academy be driven out or leave out of frustration. Certainly, some freshening of an organization is a good thing, but that doesn’t seem the case here; this seems more like a “purge” to stifle debate and support management as opposed to the needs of the Academy.

We have failed to provide leadership. Yes, that includes the Presidency, which with a one year term creates instability, but moreover the CEO role has become much broader and far reaching, and the results are erratic at best. It also includes 54 Board of Governors, which is so large it makes decision-making difficult and makes it way too easy for the silent majority to stay silent.

Many of the problems I’m talking about come not from malfeasance but rather from the silence of too many Governors. A vocal few people are insistent that the problems are not really problems or would be too damaging to the Academy to admit. Not facing your problems means you are not addressing those issues and, guess what, problems don’t go away — they simmer under the surface and, if anything, get worse.

You can’t hide the drainage of employees, the cataclysmic decline in the Oscar ratings, the fact that no popular film has won in over a decade; that we decided to play Moral Police and most probably someone inside the Academy leaked confidential information in order to compromise the President; that the Board doesn’t feel their voice is being heard with regard to the Museum; that we have allowed the Academy to be blamed for things way beyond our control and then try to do things which are not in our purview (sexual harassment, discrimination in the Industry).

Perhaps I’m wrong about all of this and if so my resignation will simply make things better. If that’s the case, so be it. If it’s not, then I truly hope the majority of Governors will take action. Check in with our membership and get their input. If they respond as many have with me, then change the leadership of the Academy and put the Academy’s interests above any personal likes or dislikes.

Respectfully,

Bill Mechanic

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