Call it "The Empire Strikes Back."
Dawn Hudson, who has been CEO of the Academy for less than six months, is now facing criticism from members and/or AMPAS staffers who told the Los Angeles Times that the organization's board of governors has discussed buying out the remainder of Hudson's three-year contract.
At issue, said the Times' anonymous sources, is that Hudson has made decisions without consulting other members of the organization, acting like "a bull in a china shop" within the tradition-oriented Academy.
Her offenses reportedly include involving herself in the selection of new members, something normally left to the individual branches; replacing longtime committee chairs, including grants committee head Andrew Marlowe; and trying to push through a $4 million renovation of the Academy's Beverly Hills headquarters.
All of this was discussed at a meeting in early December, which begs the question of why "half a dozen Academy insiders" decided to talk about it to the Times now.
"A lot of people are unsettled over there, and somebody has obviously decided to take it public," said a member with knowledge of the staff workings.
"This plays to me as an attempt to embarrass her publicly and get her to change, not as a sign that they'd really dump her this quickly."
Hudson declined to comment for TheWrap.
The Times story, which does not specify whether the anti-Hudson sources are Academy staffers, members or a combination of the two, said that the Hudson critics make up a minority of the 43-member board, and that since the December meeting Hudson "has made a more concerted effort to engage with her staff and the board."
Two sources with first-hand knowledge of the meeting in question told TheWrap that Hudson enjoys overwhelming support from the board, and speculated that the anonymous critics are most likely staffers resistant to change, not AMPAS governors.
As TheWrap wrote when Hudson was named to the newly created CEO job in April, part of the challenge facing her and new COO Ric Robertson was "to feel out the new structure in the midst of an organization not always known for its embrace of the new."
"AMPAS is nothing if not traditional," I wrote, "with a staff that typically measures its time in decades and a board that changes slowly."
Hudson, who had served as the longtime executive director of Film Independent, assumed the job with the strong support of Academy president Tom Sherak (who, perhaps crucially, will be termed out of his AMPAS post this summer).
At the time Hudson was named to the position, several Academy members cautioned that she might have a hard time dealing with the board of governors, which has always exercised the real power within the organization.
"You need somebody who knows where the bodies are buried, or they'll never be able to stand up to that board," one member told TheWrap.
Robertson had that knowledge, but Hudson did not. And her arrival certainly led to a stormy few months at the Academy.
She reorganized some Academy operations, bringing in Christina Kounelias to serve in the newly-created position of chief marketing officer. Longtime associate operating officer Mikel Gordon, who had worked closely with Robertson for years, resigned; so did communications director Leslie Unger.
And this year's Oscar show endured a nightmare stretch that did not reflect well on either Hudson or Sherak: Brett Ratner, who was hired to co-produce the show despite abundant signs that his raucous personality might not be a good fit, self-destructed in a blaze of ill-considered comments, and took host Eddie Murphy with him when he resigned.
Still, Sherak shouldered most of the blame and the Academy moved quickly to control the damage, bringing in producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal within days of Ratner's and Murphy's resignations.
The chances that the board would make any changes before the Academy Awards, and risk further tumult within the organization in this crucial stretch, are essentially nonexistent. And a successful Oscar show could certainly provide a boost at a key moment.
Also on Hudson's side: progress on the proposed Academy museum, which had stalled for years before she helped make a deal with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with whom she had previously worked at Film Independent.
On the other hand, cautioned a member who is openly critical of Hudson, another Oscar show as poorly-received as last year's would certainly embolden Hudson's critics.
"If the Oscars are a bomb, and then Tom Sherak is replaced by somebody who isn't a big fan of Dawn's, that's when she'll really be in trouble."