Why Laura Dern Wasn’t Elected Academy’s New President

The actress (and presumed front runner for Academy president) made a move that could lead to greater change within the organization

Laura Dern Oscars

Laura Dern did not lose the Academy’s presidential election to cinematographer John Bailey.

And in the end, an organization that has been accused of being too old, too white and too male could be in for bigger changes under the stewardship of a 74-year-old white guy, Bailey, than it would have under Dern, who would have been only the fourth woman in the job.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday night’s election, which was held at the AMPAS Board of Governors meeting in Beverly Hills, press speculation suggested that Dern was the front runner for the position. (For the record, TheWrap didn’t say that.)

But in the end, Dern didn’t even run. Instead, finding that her career is in high gear with “Big Little Lies,” “Downsizing,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Twin Peaks,” “JT Leroy,” the just-announced “Trial by Fire” and a few others, she opted not to pursue a position that for the last three or four Academy presidents has been essentially a full-time job.

The Academy does not reveal the names of losing candidates in its officer elections, so it would not confirm that Dern declined a nomination at Tuesday’s board meeting. But according to people familiar with what happened at the meeting, she chose not to run for president, which meant that Bailey and casting director David Rubin were the chief contenders for the position going into the lengthy meeting.

Bailey had been something of a stealth candidate, going unmentioned in most media accounts. But board members knew that he was an increasingly serious contender as the election approached.

The key to his success is that he represented a significant faction on the board: governors who are unhappy with the direction of the Academy in recent years, and critical of the stewardship of CEO Dawn Hudson. In particular, a number of board members are dismayed by the expensive Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is currently under construction and over-budget, forcing AMPAS to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

(The Academy’s recent push toward increasing diversity in its ranks is not a significant factor in their dissatisfaction with the current administration.)

Dern is friendly with Hudson and a big supporter of the museum; when Hudson’s contract was up for renewal in March, she gave an impassioned speech to the board about the importance of continuity as AMPAS worked to finish the elaborate project, according to Academy members.

She would have been a best-case-scenario president for Hudson, and her election would have increased the chances of the Academy continuing further down the same path.

Bailey, on the other hand, could be a thorn in the CEO’s side — or, more likely, a contrary voice. That may force the two sometime antagonists to find common ground as they plot a course for the Academy in uncertain times.

Could the older white guy be the wild card in this scenario, the one who wants to shake things up rather than staying the course?

Yes, he could. Stay tuned.