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A Woman Takes Over the Academy

A Woman Takes Over the Academy

While most people get the impression from the media that Hollywood is a liberal town, there are many issues where Hollywood is in the dark ages. We all know them. One is casting women (and men) of color in leading roles in films. One is hiring female directors. One is nominating a female cinematographer for an Oscar.

So I read the news that Dawn Hudson was hired to run AMPAS (which stands for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) with muted happiness. Happiness because they finally hired a chick, but muted because I know how backwards the Academy is on its gender issues. Hudson came from running Film Independent which produces the successful Indie Spirit Awards.

With her hiring it seems like the Academy is looking for some infusion of indie spirit. Hudson technically becomes the second woman to run the Academy (Bette Davis ran it for two months in the early 40s but quit) and she is the first woman to hold the newly created title of CEO.

She’s been on the job just a couple of months and the NY Times decided to do a profile on her (which she declined to be interviewed for) and infused it with anonymous quotes on her short tenure because people are not allowed to speak about internal Academy deliberations and issues.

This story goes out of its way to be a hatchet job and the people who spoke off the record clearly have an ax to grind about the decisions that the Academy leaders have made. Remember there are lots of people who are happy with the Academy the way it is. Some I’m sure would be happy if we went back to silent films (ok maybe not that far back.) But others have got to know that the best way to make people love the movies is to take advantage of the world’s biggest movie brand — the Academy Awards.

The Times story goes out of its way to be condescending talking about how she dropped out of Harvard (so have many successful people) and that she came to Hollywood first as an actress. (They also love to talk about Sherry Lansing’s acting career too.) And then of course there is the inevitable story about how she must not get along with other women since a long time employee resigned rather than take a different job in the organization. Many of us have been involved with organizations going through leadership transitions. Things change. Jobs are moved. People leave. That’s what happens. It sucks when it happens to you (and I know that from first hand experience) but that’s why people bring in new leaders — to lead and to shake things up.

But what bothered me most about the piece was the description of the board meeting when she was hired.

According to people who attended, she faltered when presented as the committee’s choice, and was initially turned down. Mr. Ganis and Mr. Sherak continued to plead her case, and Ms. Hudson rallied with a second presentation that carried the day. She was hired under a three-year contract.

I’m sure Dawn Hudson has a thick skin but I find that characterization of what happened at the board meeting so disgusting. Can you imagine your own job interview being relayed this way to the NY Times? It must be really fun to start a job with people already gunning for your failure. And the quote makes it seem like the guys needed to rescue her.

Way to go Academy. At least you are consistent on your gender issues. I hope Ms. Hudson can get someone to make her a magic mirror so she can be ready to see all the knives ready to stab her in the back.

For the Academy’s New Chief, a Balancing Act (NY Times)

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