Here’s a thought for a sunny morning: Wouldn’t it be nice to see a “daylight slate” in charge of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?
If precedent holds, next month will bring the election or re-election of almost one-third of the Academy’s 54-member governing board (three governors are diversity appointments). A month later, the termed-out David Rubin will be replaced as president, and at some point the group will complete its search for a new chief executive to replace Dawn Hudson, who is leaving.
That confluence of changes brings the rare opportunity for a sudden reset — but only if the incoming leaders are not simply a new version of the old (Hudson and Rubin will influence the choice of a new CEO) and if there is any point on which they can actually agree.
So let that point be “daylight”: a commitment to transparency and member engagement. It’s simple. It transcends specific disputes about the Oscar show or the makeup of the Academy. And it’s surely in order at an institution that, like many others, has a tendency to clam up when communication is most needed (as in the aftermath to the Will Smith slap, when self-righteous formal pronouncements and background whispers supplanted an open discussion that should have taken place).
To be talking about a “reset” at the Academy could seem bizarre. After all, the group has gone through an actual revolution since 2015, when the #Oscarssowhite campaign led first to a diversity-oriented doubling of the membership and then to race-and-gender awards standards under a pair of five-year plans, the second of which, called Academy Aperture 2025, has yet to be fully implemented. In a sense, everything has changed — the mission, the members, the international-domestic balance, the financial underpinnings (now dependent more on growing investment than declining awards income).
But like most revolutions, the Academy’s — centered heavily on race-and-gender equity — quickly hardened into a new orthodoxy. Critics were brushed aside with a patronizing catchphrase: “Change is hard.” (The persistent were branded “malcontents”; I know, I am one.) Those who fretted that on-show politics and moralizing were a turn-off got no traction. When producer Michael Shamberg asked for something as simple as a board vote on proposals to mandate social media reform and an annual member survey, the governors preferred to resist him in court. Indeed, the staff did conduct a survey (and is doing another right now) but concealed the results. Responding to another Shamberg proposal, the Academy has promised annual meetings; but whether members will be allowed more than a few pre-screened questions remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, requests to view the extensive “inclusion” questionnaire now required of Best Picture contenders are denied. Concerns about the personal data being compiled thereby are pushed off. Even members as respected as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron couldn’t persuade the current regime to preserve the live presentation of original score, editing and other awards on an Oscar show that once again wore ideology on its sleeve, this time at the expense of the craft.
Those and other matters have led to discontent, both within the Academy and among those who simply love movies and the show— and who, after all, thus are stakeholders.
To sort through the many issues is a complicated business. In truth, it’s an ongoing process that never will be finished and will never leave everyone entirely happy.
But “daylight” — transparency and engagement — could do a lot.
For a start, the governors could revise their election procedures, to help board candidates communicate and share positions across the Academy, rather than channeling discussion within each branch. Cross-branch communication might lead to coalitions that could create consensus.
Certainly, the new governors should repeal a decade-old bylaws prohibition on the disclosure of board matters; the more talk, the better.
In fact, they should publish an agenda for every meeting and welcome online attendance by members.
An occasional member referendum on key issues would be good. Open access to the aforementioned diversity questionnaire — it’s called the “RAISE” platform, and it will have immense influence on Best Picture contenders in another year — should be a given.
When things go wrong, as with Will Smith, a no-holds-barred press conference with the president or CEO might be wise. I can remember past president Sidney Ganis facing the assembled press. With new leaders, and a new attitude, a little bit of daylight —who knows? — maybe it will happen again.