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David Rubin elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

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Veteran casting director David Rubin has been elected president of the film academy.
(Kenneth Dolin)

Hollywood has a new unofficial mayor.

Casting director David Rubin was elected the 35th president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group’s board of governors announced Tuesday. He’s now charged with helping to lead the film industry’s most prestigious institution through the next chapter of its transformation.

In a meeting Tuesday evening at the academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters, the group’s 54-member board, including such Hollywood heavyweights as Steven Spielberg, Laura Dern and Whoopi Goldberg, elected Rubin to succeed the group’s outgoing president, cinematographer John Bailey, who is stepping down because of term limits after two occasionally tumultuous years at the helm of the 92-year-old institution.

Among academy watchers, Rubin’s election did not come as a great surprise. Although active campaigning for the job of president is frowned upon, in the weeks leading up to the election, his name, along with makeup artist Lois Burwell, was among those most frequently mentioned. Rubin, whose numerous film credits include “The English Patient,” “Men in Black,” “Cold Mountain” and “Gravity,” was reportedly in the running for president in 2017 before Bailey emerged as a dark-horse candidate.

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At a time when the academy faces challenges on numerous fronts — including flagging public interest in the Academy Awards, seismic shifts in the film distribution landscape, and an ambitious museum project beset by cost overruns and delays — Rubin is seen by many insiders as a steadying hand for an organization whose voting membership has ballooned by more than 50% from 5,765 in 2012 to 8,733 today.

Though the casting directors branch is the newest in the academy, dating only to 2013, Rubin is a veteran academy insider. One of the original three governors representing casting directors since the branch’s establishment, he has served as secretary of the board and has produced the Governors Awards twice.

In an era when the boundary lines between film and television have blurred nearly to the point of vanishing, Rubin has strong footholds in both worlds. Though casting directors do not have a competitive Oscar category, Rubin has won two Emmys for his work on HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and “Game Change” and is currently nominated for HBO’s “Sharp Objects.”

In decades past the role of academy president, which is unpaid, was largely ceremonial, filled over the years by the likes of Frank Capra, Bette Davis and Gregory Peck as well as less renowned industry insiders. But in recent years, as the organization has dramatically expanded and remade itself inside and out, the job has grown more demanding — and the public spotlight has grown more intense.

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“Look, for an organization that some people like to say is irrelevant and is out of touch with the times, there always seems to be a tremendous amount of interest in what is going on inside the academy,” Bailey told The Times last year.

Indeed, under Bailey’s leadership, even as the academy was widely applauded for continuing its aggressive push to diversify its membership ranks as well as its leadership and made significant headway toward opening its long-awaited museum, the group suffered a string of self-inflicted wounds and public-relations crises.

Last year, the board announced the creation of a “best popular film award,” only to shelve the idea weeks later after intense blowback that it was ill-conceived. This year’s Oscars was left hostless for the first time in 30 years after planned emcee, Kevin Hart, dropped out amid controversy over past homophobic jokes. A plan to move the presentation of several categories to commercial breaks to shorten the show was scrapped after intense pushback from some of the academy’s most prominent members. Bailey himself was investigated by the group — and ultimately cleared — after a claim of sexual harassment was lodged against him in the first public test of a new code of conduct it adopted in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Most recently, on Monday, the academy, having already pushed back the long-delayed museum opening from this fall to 2020, announced that museum director Kerry Brougher was stepping down from his position, leaving the project temporarily without a director as construction nears completion.

How Rubin, along with academy CEO Dawn Hudson and the rest of the group’s leaders, will address the numerous challenges facing the group going forward remains to be seen. But in Bailey’s view, as the public face of an organization that seems to have become a magnet for controversy in recent years, he may need a thick skin.

“My own feeling is, no matter what the academy does or says or determines as a course of action, there are going to be naysayers,” Bailey said last year. “It’s just the nature of it.”

In other election results announced Tuesday night, Burwell will continue to serve in the role of first vice president; Sid Ganis was reelected vice president and will chair the museum committee; Larry Karaszewski will continue as vice president and chair of the preservation and history committee; Nancy Utley will return as vice president and chair of the outreach committee; Mark Johnson will be treasurer and chair of the finance committee; and Bonnie Arnold will be secretary and chair of the membership and governance committee.


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