On March 16, we received an explosive tip: Motion Picture Academy president John Bailey was being investigated for allegations of sexual harassment. The story we broke, which revealed that the probe was initiated after the Academy received three claims against Bailey, became the latest PR nightmare and potential scandal in recent years to envelop the venerable Hollywood institution.
Last year, after the wrong best picture Oscar was initially announced, the Academy took a long time to publicly respond and apologize for the embarrassing gaffe, drawing the ire of the media.
The Oscar ceremonies in 2015 and 2016 saw a huge public backlash against the Academy when zero minority nominations were announced for any of the acting categories. Outrage over the lack of diversity in the Academy’s voting membership resulted in the creation of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, prompting the organization to expedite efforts to diversify its membership, which was 94% white.
Last year, more controversy raged after Casey Affleck won the actor Oscar for “Manchester by the Sea” and press reports resurfaced that he had settled sexual-harassment lawsuits with two women over alleged incidents on a movie set. In January, it was revealed that Affleck wouldn’t present the best actress Oscar, as is customary, nor would he attend the ceremony.
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Even after the Academy expelled Harvey Weinstein in October, soon after a New York Times exposé detailed the mogul’s decades of sexual harassment, questions lingered over why the board didn’t oust Affleck, Roman Polanski — who admitted to raping a 13-year-old — and Bill Cosby, who was accused of sexual misconduct and drugging by dozens of women and is about to be retried on criminal charges of alleged assault against a former Temple University employee.
The news about Bailey comes just three months after the Academy instituted a code of conduct stating that members may be disciplined or expelled for abuse, harassment or discrimination. Bailey’s will be the first case to test the new claims process, which determines how such allegations would be adjudicated. Guilty or not guilty, the fallout is far from over.