Academy Still Faces the Hardest Challenge: Making the New Rules Work

The Board of Governors has set the agenda, but it’s up to the Academy’s 17 branches to carry it out

The Academy has its new governors and committee members in place, but they’re not the ones who’ll be doing the hard work.

The Board of Governors has spoken by adding Reginald Hudlin (Directors Branch), Gregory Nava (Writers Branch) and Jennifer Yuh Nelson to its 51-seat Board, but the real burden now falls on the branches.

The Academy’s board has now reaffirmed the changes it hastily passed back in January, and reinforced that no, it does not want members who haven’t worked in the movie business in a decade to be voting for the Oscars, even if they were once told that they’d be members for life.

That part of Tuesday’s announcement, which came on the heels of a regularly-scheduled board meeting, is no surprise. Despite the fact that some members were angry about potentially losing their vote without any evidence to show that they were responsible for the lack of diversity at the Oscars, it didn’t make sense that the board, AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson would want to appear as if the changes were made for show.

After all, if the strong moves made in January were rescinded once there was no longer an upcoming Oscar show to be boycotted, the Academy would hardly look good.

But that still leaves the organization facing the real challenge: implementing the changes. More specifically, examining its 6,261 voting members and deciding which ones no longer deserve to vote.

And that will fall to 17 individual branches, which appear to have significant leeway under the guidelines announced on Tuesday.

Committees from each branch will have to examine their membership rolls, which range from a low of 86 (Casting Directors Branch) to a high of 1,138 (Actors Branch). They’ll have to determine which members have not worked in the movie business in the last decade, which earmarks them for a move to non-voting status — but then they’ll have to double check to make sure that those members weren’t ever nominated for an Oscar, which grants a lifetime exemption, or that they also qualified for the exemption by working in three consecutive decades.

The committees will have to identify the inactive members, quietly notify them, hear appeals and then make a final decision — even as each branch’s membership committee is also conducting a search to find a large number of minority candidates to invite for membership this summer.

The list of new members will have to be huge, and predominantly non-white and non-male — but even if it is, the diversity ratio within the Academy won’t get substantially better unless the current roster, 90 percent white and three-fourths male, is also trimmed.

For the Academy, it’s tough to make the numbers really add up, however determined the board is to make a substantive change. And then they’ll have to hope that taking the vote away from members who might well have cast ballots for “12 Years a Slave” and Mo’Nique and Halle Berry will result in a more diverse roster of nominees next year.

(Let’s face it, “The Birth of a Nation” may have more to do with that than any amount of tinkering with the AMPAS membership.)

The way the Academy plans to achieve its goals got a little clearer on Tuesday.

But it didn’t get any easier.