Is It Time to Expose the Academy's Secret Committees?

Is It Time to Expose the Academy's Secret Committees?

Sources say the AMPAS governors may look at a system that hides the names of committee members even from the people who voted them in

The Motion Picture Academy has been making a push for more transparency in recent months, but many of the key decisions about new members and the makeup of the Board of Governors are still made behind closed doors by secret committees whose membership is never revealed.

But is the end in sight for the Academy’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy?

Hawk KochThe culture of secrecy came under fire during the most contentious exchange in the unprecedented May 4 meeting to which all Academy members were invited – a meeting, AMPAS president Hawk Koch (left) told TheWrap, designed to send the message, “The Academy is planning to be more open.”

And one official with knowledge of the debate told TheWrap that the secret committees may be reviewed as early as Tuesday evening, when the Board of Governors is scheduled to meet.

"It is because of [CEO] Dawn [Hudson] and Hawk's desire for more membership involvement and transparency that this may be about to change,” the source said. “There is support from both members and governors to have these committees [openly] chosen by a vote of each branch."

As it currently stands, crucial parts of the Academy’s committee process are still hidden from the public, and from most Academy members. While no Academy official would speak on the record to TheWrap about the issue, AMPAS COO Ric Robertson said at the membership meeting that the secrecy is necessary to prevent members of those committees from being lobbied.

Some members who have served on those committees told TheWrap that they agree with Robertson’s reasoning – that active lobbying has indeed taken place in the past, and that if their names were made public, they believe they would be pressured by friends and colleagues of prospective AMPAS members, and they could be targeted after the fact if those candidates are passed over.

But other members disagree, and are becoming more vocal. “We know who the governors are for our branches, but not who comprises the executive committees,” one member who asked to remain anonymous told TheWrap. “This is ludicrous.”

A number of secret committees are selected in the spring by the members of each branch, who receive a list of their branch’s entire membership and are asked to vote for representatives for a 12-20-person panel that will nominate four members to run for the Board of Governors.

Those elections are currently underway, with ballots due to be sent to members early this week. But the names of the committee members who came up with the nominations are never revealed publicly, and are not made available to the branch members who elected the committee to represent them.

Also this week, on Tuesday night, the current AMPAS Board of Governors will meet to consider list of potential new members recommended by the executive committee of each branch. Those executive committees are themselves chosen behind closed doors and not revealed publicly.

In fact, not only does the Academy not release the names of the committee members (although some, chiefly the Foreign Language Award Executive Committee, are printed in the Oscar program most years), it declined to even tell TheWrap how the executive committees are chosen, other than to say that the process takes place after the election of a new AMPAS president.

Members who have sat on the committees told TheWrap that the Academy president chooses the heads of certain committees once he or she assumes office, and that the membership on those committees is then chosen by the chair, often in consultation with AMPAS officials.

The executive committee from each branch is put together by the three governors from that branch, with the senior governor serving as the committee chair.

These committees can consist of as many as 50 members. They operate year-round, considering Oscar rule changes and making decisions on other administrative matters that affect the branch.  

The next time the executive committees are created, Koch will no longer be Academy president. With his successor due to be elected on July 30, that means that Tuesday will the last board meeting at which the president who has pushed the idea of transparency and openness will be sitting at the head of the table.