The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is getting ready to announce a new big winner – though this time, for better or worse, there will be no envelope to open in front of millions of TV viewers.
On Tuesday at 6 p.m, the academy’s 54-member board of governors — including such boldfaced names as Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Whoopi Goldberg — will meet at the organization’s Beverly Hills headquarters to choose a new president from among its ranks to succeed Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has led the nearly 90-year-old institution through four of the most tumultuous and transformative years in its history.
In decades past, the job of academy president, which is unpaid, was largely ceremonial, a kind of unofficial mayoralty of Hollywood’s glitterati. But whoever steps into the shoes of Boone Isaacs — who was the first African American to hold the office — will inherit a handful of thorny challenges, from an ongoing campaign to diversify the academy’s overwhelmingly white and male membership to an ambitious and costly museum project, as the proudly tradition-bound institution continues to give itself a makeover in full public view.
“It’s always different when you sit in the chair,” Boone Isaacs told The Times in a May interview, reflecting on the intense scrutiny directed toward the academy in recent years. “Certainly there’s interest in the academy in a way that there didn’t use to be — holy mackerel, it’s really changed. And I’m assuming that’s not going to go away.”
Actively campaigning for the job of president has traditionally been frowned upon, but in recent weeks, a few names have circulated in the academy rumor mill, including documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, casting director David Rubin and, perhaps most notably, actress Laura Dern.
Currently serving a first term as a governor for the actors branch, Dern — a two-time Oscar nominee and a member of a storied acting family — would bring a fresh degree of star power to the role of president, which in years past has been held by prominent actors and filmmakers like Douglas Fairbanks, Bette Davis, Frank Capra and Gregory Peck as well as less well-known behind-the-scenes industry power players.
It’s just speculative at the moment.”
The academy is looking to move past a series of controversies and public missteps, including two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite furor, repeated delays and cost overruns with the museum project and this year’s highly embarrassing Oscar-night gaffe, in which the wrong film was initially announced as best picture. At a time when many fear the movie industry as a whole is losing the cultural high ground to television and streaming, some believe making a well-regarded luminary like Dern the public face of the academy could help burnish its image.
Speaking to The Times in the spring, Dern brushed off talk of her vying for the job of president. “It’s just speculative at the moment,” she said, noting that she did wonder if the gavel that the academy president wields in meetings would come in handy with her two children. “They’d probably tune it out like they do the sound of my voice,” she joked.
Whoever assumes the job of president will have to work closely with academy CEO Dawn Hudson, who has herself been a lightning rod since being hired as the group’s chief executive in 2011 and whose contract was recently renewed through June 2020. A vocal supporter of Hudson, Dern told The Times that the academy CEO is “doing a great job” and that the “museum is going to be incredible, both for the academy and the city of Los Angeles,” adding, “The deep attempt to bring diversity and female power into the academy has been inspiring.”
As she comes to the end of her fourth and final term as academy president, having weathered more than the usual share of controversy and public-relations headaches along the way, Boone Isaacs said she has confidence that whoever next assumes the role will have the requisite skills to take on the challenges ahead.
“This group of men and women who have been involved in this organization, who have taken on this responsibility and have the backing of the different branches — they’re all up for the job,” she said. “It just depends on who wishes to actually become president or first vice president, because all of the officers have a lot to do at this time — and certainly the board does. We’re evolving in so many wonderful ways.”