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Academy Doesn’t Show Much Appetite for Change in Board of Governors Voting

Election doubles African-Americans, but female representation could actually drop with one branch runoff remaining


Concluding its most wide-open election ever for the Board of Governors, voters in the Motion Picture Academy have mostly picked the same people they probably would have chosen under the old system.

At a time when the Academy is undergoing dramatic change in its membership and outlook, the new board represents small, incremental change rather than wholesale reconfiguring.

Yes, the board doubled the number of African-American governors — from two to four — with costume designer Sharen K. Davis and documentary director Roger Ross Williams joining Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and producer Reggie Hudlin.

(Hudlin was appointed as one of three members designed to add diversity — so if you simply look at elected directors, the number was tripled.)

But with a runoff election still needed to determine the governor in the Film Editors Branch, the number of women on the board is in jeopardy. If Maryann Brandon wins that election, this board will have 17 elected women plus appointed governor Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the same number as last year; if Mark Goldblatt wins, it’ll have 16, one fewer than last year.

This year’s board election began with the potential for dramatic upheaval. For the first time ever, all Academy members were invited to declare their candidacy for the board, with hundreds of members doing just that. In the Public Relations Branch, for instance, more than three dozen members ran, representing more than 10 percent of the entire branch membership.

But after a first-round election narrowed the field to four finalists from each of the 17 branches, the roster of candidates looked pretty familiar — and now that the final election results have been announced, the 2016-2017 board seems likely to continue in the same vein as the 2015-2016 board.

And the governors who were elected are not, for the most part, the ones who ran on a platform of change. Most of those had already been weeded out in the first-round voting, though Bruce Feldman, an outspoken advocate of reform, was one of the finalists in the Public Relations Branch before losing to to incumbent Nancy Utley.

Still, it’s interesting to see who else the voters didn’t pick. Laura Dern beat Ed Begley Jr., long a fixture on the board representing the Actors Branch. Roger Ross Williams’ victory in Documentary Branch voting came amid a field that included two former governors — Michael Apted and Rob Epstein — and reinforced that branch as perhaps AMPAS’ most daring.

In the Executives Branch, former governor Bill Mechanic returned to office at the expense of incumbent Amy Pascal, who was first elected back in the days before she lost her job at Sony Pictures.

And in the Producers Branch, incumbent Mark Johnson beat out a strong field that included former Academy president Hawk Koch, who was the beneficiary of a rare (and in some circles, eyebrow-raising) campaign email from producer Brian Grazer to branch membership urging a vote for Koch.

The Music Branch, meanwhile, suddenly seems determined to shake off its old status as the branch that for years was almost exclusively represented by white guys of retirement age — Laura Karpman, one of the few women in the branch, won in a field that included former governor Arthur Hamilton, who only a few years ago would likely have been a shoo-in.

(Last year, Music Branch voters also elected Michael Giacchino, who is a couple of decades younger than most of their recent governors.)

Overall, the 16 governors elected to the board include seven of the 11 incumbents who were running for re-election — and of the other nine winners, three were former governors returning to the board after a hiatus.

The six new governors represent slightly more new blood than usual for an AMPAS board election — but can you really call the 69-year-old Steven Spielberg, a quintessential Academy insider whose producer Kathleen Kennedy has long been on the board, new blood?

Maybe you can. Maybe Spielberg will hit the boardroom brimming with fresh ideas. But this election shows an embrace of the Academy’s current direction, not a desire to significantly change course.

The first order of business will come in two weeks and one day, on Aug. 2, when this board gets together for the first time to elect a president.

As usual, the smart money’s on the incumbent.