Steven Spielberg and Laura Dern Join Motion Picture Academy Board of Governors, Elected Under New Rules

Changing the rules for electing the Board of Governors resulted in adding 2 people of color, for a total of 4 out of 50.
Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg

Thanks to new rules, this year’s Academy Board of Governors race was more intense than usual. The Academy’s 17 branches each has three governors on the board; they can serve three consecutive three-year terms. One seat is up for reelection every year. The Board of Governors actually runs the show at the Academy, determining the strategy and mission, and keeping tabs on its financial health.

(The full list of Governors is here.)

This year, the race was opened up to allow any of the 6200-plus Academy members to run for the board. Before, the membership voted for 50% of a nominating committee that selected candidates to present to the Board. This yielded the same favorites over and over again.

Now, members of each branch can pick their own contenders. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson clearly sees the benefit of a more diverse board of Governors. In an email to members announcing the move she wrote: “This new process is more democratic, more transparent, and one that will significantly expand the pool of possible candidates. These changes will strengthen our leadership to ensure that it is both representative of our entire membership and well-equipped to guide our large and complex organization.”

So who came out on top? As expected, Steven Spielberg won the Directors Branch spot once held by Kathryn Bigelow, beating out John Badham, Thomas Carter and Lisa Cholodenko; it’s his first time serving on the Board. In the Public Relations race, Fox Searchlight’s incumbent governor Nancy Utley won a second three-year term against one-time Board member Rob Friedman (Lionsgate), veteran Oscar-campaigner Tony Angellotti and vocal Academy critic and former press agent Bruce Feldman, who used social media to advance his cause.

Former AMPAS President Hawk Koch, who along with Friedman has his eye on president Cheryl Boone Isaac’s job when it opens up in 2017, lost his bid to return to the Board. Instead, foreign film czar Mark Johnson landed another term, beating out two women, Paula Wagner and Stephanie Allain, director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, who played a key role in the diverse list of invited new members this year.

Other incumbent governors reelected to the Board include David Rubin, Casting Directors Branch; John Bailey, Cinematographers Branch; Jan Pascale, Designers Branch; Jon Bloom, Short Films and Feature Animation Branch; and Robin Swicord, Writers Branch.

Returning to the Board after a hiatus are governors William M. Mechanic, Executives Branch; Leonard Engelman, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch; and Craig Barron, Visual Effects Branch.

Brand new governors include Laura Dern, Actors Branch, Sharen K. Davis, Costume Designers Branch, Roger Ross Williams, Documentary Branch, Laura Karpman, Music Branch and Kevin Collier, Sound Branch.

That’s 10 men joining the Board, including three new members, and six women; three of whom are new. Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams (“Music By Prudence”), whose film “Life, Animated” generated Oscar buzz at Sundance, and costume designer Sharen K. Davis adds two minorities to the Board, joining cinematographer Daryn Okada and Pubic Relations branch member Isaacs, who in January, reacting to the Oscars So White controversy, appointed three not-elected Governors-at-Large, Reginald Hudlin, Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Gregory Nava. Thus seven people of color are now on the Board of Governors.

That brings the count of male Governors to 34 plus two Governors at Large, and women to 16 plus one Governor at Large, for a total of 5o elected Governors so far. Thus the total now comes to 36 men v. 17 women, or double the number of men to women on the Board. There were 17 women on the Board last year.

A runoff election is required for the Editors Branch, as Maryann Brandon and Mark Goldblatt tied. Voting will begin Monday, July 25, and end Thursday, July 28. The Academy last held a runoff election in 2015 for the Writers Branch.

Last year, under the old rules, women directors Kimberly Pierce and Ava DuVernay failed to unseat incumbent veteran Michael Mann, while documentarian Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, was elected to the Board for the first time, one of four new governors. The others were Lois Burwell, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch; Michael Giacchino, Music Branch; and Daryn Okada, Cinematographers Branch.

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