The Academy’s Board of Governors election isn’t nearly as public, as colorful or as entertaining as that other election that’s going on these days — but still, the group that hands out the Oscars could deliver some intriguing outcomes when all the ballots are cast by Thursday.
For instance, the contest could see the election of two Kennedys – and one of them is a member of those Kennedys, who’ve occupied their share of notable offices in the past.
It could result in “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, famously snubbed by the Academy when she wasn’t nominated in January, getting a nice mea culpa from the Directors branch in the form of a seat on the board.
It could set a new record for the number of women on the 51-member board, which hit 15 for the 2013-2014 term but dropped to 14 last year.
And it could double, triple or even quadruple the number of minorities on the board.
But none of those are sure things, and there are lots of factors to keep in mind about the Academy’s process. Bear in mind, this is not a public election – no debates and no grandstanding Donald Trump types out on the stump, just private ballots and then a press release that announces the names of the winners, but not the people they beat.
But the board carries real consequences for the Academy, because the board is the ultimate authority when it comes to all things AMPAS.
So here’s a guide – 15 things you should know about the election, for which ballots are due on Thursday.
1. Two-thirds of the 51 governors don’t have anything to worry about.
Each of the Academy’s 17 branches is represented on the board by three governors, who serve three-year terms. Those terms are staggered, so that one seat from each branch is up for election every year.
Committees from each branch choose candidates to run for the seats – as many as three if an incumbent is standing for re-election, four if the incumbent chooses not to run or if he or she is forced off the board by the Academy’s term limits, which restrict a governor to three consecutive three-year terms. (But you can do a nine-year stint on the board, take a year off and then return for another nine years.)
Members of each branch then vote for one of the candidates from their branch.
2. Incumbents usually win.
Almost two-thirds of the governors elected over the past decade have simply been re-elected incumbents – and the number would be higher than that if it wasn’t for the 2013 creation of five new board seats, which obviously couldn’t go to incumbents.
This year, candidates for 12 of the 17 seats include incumbents running for re-election. The other five incumbents, including writer-director Bill Condon and AMPAS vice president Leonard Engleman, are either ineligible because of term limits or have opted not to run.
3. Some heavy-duty incumbents are seeking re-election.
Two of the incumbents running for re-election are current officers of the Academy: Executives Branch governor Dick Cook is treasurer, while Short Films and Feature Animation Branch governor Bill Kroyer is secretary. And three others are former officers of the Academy: Tom Hanks in the Actors Branch, Kathleen Kennedy in the Producers Branch and Robert Friedman in the Public Relations Branch.
Friedman and Kroyer have also been mentioned as potential Academy presidents in the past, while the consensus has long been that Hanks and Kennedy could probably have that job any time they wanted it.
It’s safe to say that a loss by any of them would be unexpected.
4. When incumbents don’t win, their seats usually go to people who’ve already served terms on the board.
Of the four incumbents who weren’t re-elected last year, three lost to former governors returning to the board. The only board newcomer to defeat an incumbent was Kate Amend in the Documentary branch, which warrants an item of its own. (See No. 9.)
5. Women could end up with a record number of seats.
Lots of women are on the ballot — but that doesn’t mean the board is going to swing female. Of the 27 women running in 13 races, two are running for re-election, eight are running for open seats and the majority, 17, are running against incumbents, the hardest job of all.
And five of those are running for seats currently held by women — so even if they win, it won’t increase female representation on the board.
Currently, 22 men and 12 women have seats that are not in jeopardy in this election. Of the remaining 17 seats, one (Costume Designers) is guaranteed to go to a woman, because the slate of candidates is all female. Four (Designers, Music, Sound and Visual Effects) are guaranteed to go to a man. The other 12 could go either way.
Theoretically, the election could produce as few as 13 female governors or as many as 25, which would make up almost half the board. But it’s far more likely that the number will nudge up to or just slightly over the previous high of 15.
6. The number of minorities on the board could easily double or triple.
But that statement is only a reflection of the paltry current minority representation on the board. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs is currently the only person of color on the board, so all it would take is one to double the total.
Four African-Americans are running: director Ava DuVernay, documentary filmmaker Orlando Bagwell, producer Stephanie Allain and film editor Terilyn A. Shopshire, along with one Asian-American, cinematographer Daryn Okada, and two Latinos, actor Edward James Olmos, born in Los Angeles of Mexican descent, and Mexican-born cinematographer Guillermo Navarro.
All but Bagwell, Shopshire and Navarro, though, are running against strong incumbents or candidates to return to the board.
7. Ava DuVernay has to take down a formidable foe.
While fans of “Selma” would find some delicious justice in the election of Ava DuVernay by the same branch that denied her a Best Director nomination five months ago, the director faces a tough challenge in sitting governor Michael Mann. The four-time Oscar nominee is well respected and liked, and known within the Academy not only for exemplary filmmaking but for his Oscar-week dinners for nominated directors.
Two other female directors are also in the running for Mann’s seat: Lisa Cholodenko, who previously served one term on the board before losing her seat to Ed Zwick, and Kimberly Peirce.
8. For those who still want to argue that the Academy is nothing but old white men, the Music Branch governors are a pretty good example.
Despite the fact that one of its longtime governors, Bruce Broughton, lost a nomination because of campaign violations in 2014, the Music branch still appears devoted to the Old Guard. The current branch members are Arthur Hamilton, 88; Charles Fox, 74; and Charles Bernstein, 72; only Bernstein, who works mostly in TV movies, shorts and documentaries, has film credits in the last 30 years that aren’t for songs he’d previously written.
Michael Giacchino (a relative kid still in his 40s), Marco Beltrami (also in his high 40s) and Patrick Williams (in his 70s) are running against Hamilton this year. If the branch voters are true to form, though, they’ll probably serenade those candidates with Hamilton’s best-known song, and the source of his last 23 IMDb credits: “Cry Me a River.”
Still, with recent invitations going to the likes of Eddie Vedder, Pharrell Williams, Prince and, this year, Trent Reznor, Jonny Greenwood, John Legend and Common, maybe the branch is ready for some new blood in the form of Giacchino or Beltrami.
9. The “incumbents usually win” rule doesn’t apply quite so much to the doc branch.
Two of the current governors, Amend and Alex Gibney, won their seats by defeating sitting governors Michael Apted and Michael Moore, respectively. This year the branch’s third governor, Rob Epstein, is termed out, which opens the field to four newcomers; Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) is the best known, with Rory Kennedy, Orlando Bagwell and Karen Goodman also in the hunt.
With Epstein termed out, the incumbent can’t win this year, and this much is guaranteed: After the election, the Documentary Branch will be the only branch (apart from the Casting Branch, created only two years ago) to have all three of its governors serving their first terms on the board.
10. Yes, Documentary branch candidate Rory Kennedy is from that family.
Documentary filmmaker Kennedy, who was nominated for “Last Days in Vietnam” earlier this year, is from one of the most storied political families the country has seen: Her uncle John was president of the United States, her uncle Edward was a longtime senator from Massachusetts, two of her siblings have held elected office and her father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a U.S. Senator and a presidential candidate who was assassinated six months before Rory was born.
By the way, there’s another Kennedy on the ballot, producer Kathleen Kennedy. She’s no relation. Neither is Casting Directors branch governor Lora Kennedy, whose seat is not up for re-election this year.
11. Hawk Koch could be back.
An intriguing race is taking place in the Producers branch, where former Academy president Hawk Koch is running to return to the board two years after being forced off by term limits, and forced out of the Academy presidency after only one extremely activist year in office. A seat would presumably put Koch in position to run again for AMPAS president, though it’s unlikely he’d do so before the popular Isaacs serves the two more terms she’s eligible for.
12. But Koch faces a tough incumbent.
For Koch to take the seat, or for fellow candidates Stephanie Allain or Jennifer Todd to do so, would require defeating Kathleen Kennedy. A past Academy officer who often winds up on dream lists for the AMPAS presidency (“if only she had the time” is the eternal refrain), Kennedy won her seat by defeating incumbent Mark Johnson. And he was hardly a weak candidate — he was immediately returned to the board the following year, taking the spot vacated when Koch termed out.
Koch may be a past president, but Kennedy is one of the toughest candidates to beat.
13. Of the five branches with open seats, at least four will be filled by first-time governors.
You won’t find incumbents running in the elections for the Cinematographers, Documentary, Film Editors, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists and Writers branches. And of the candidates seeking those offices, only cinematographer Richard Crudo has served as a governor in the past.
The other 19 challengers are all potential first-time governors, meaning a minimum of four seats will be filled with board rookies.
14. Among those open-seat branches, the Writers branch has one of the most intriguing races.
Writers branch governor Bill Condon has opted not to stand for re-election. Presumably he’ll use his extra time to direct the live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” though it’d sure be nice if he and Laurence Mark would come back and produce the Oscars again, since they did it better than any other producers in the past decade.
That opens the field to candidates Larry Karaszewski (“The People Vs. Larry Flynt”), Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”), James Schamus (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Dana Stevens (“Reckless”). And with Schamus becoming arguably better known for the dozen years he spent as the head of Focus Features, a stint that ended in 2014, we’ll get to see if the Writers Branch goes the same route as the Public Relations branch. That branch loves to draw its governors from the ranks of people who started as publicists but became better known for running studios (Lionsgate’s Robert Friedman, Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley).
15. It’s Fox vs. Fox in the Executives branch race.
Former governor Jim Gianopulos, the CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, is running to return to the board representing the Executives Branch — where one of his opponents is Stacey Snider, who works for Gianopulos as his vice chair. (Executive-turned-producer Lucy Fisher is also on the ballot.)
If that has the potential to make things awkward in the executive suite at Fox, not to worry — they’re both going up against the much-loved incumbent Dick Cook, so it’s unlikely that Snider could upset both her boss and Cook.
Results will be announced sometime after the July 4th holiday — and if recent history is any indication, we’ll see about five first-time governors, a couple of returning governors, around 10 re-elected incumbents and a board breakdown of 15 or 16 women to 35 or 36 men.
The new board will meet for the first time in late July or early August — and its first order of business will be to elect a president to a one-year term. Once again, the smart money’s on the incumbent.