Film Academy's Haste to Promise Reforms Leads to Bylaw Complications

Illustration for article titled Film Academy's Haste to Promise Reforms Leads to Bylaw Complications

When, in January, we learned that the Oscars nominees for leading and supporting acting categories were all white for a second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences knew it needed a robust response — and on the double. But some of the promised reforms are not yet in compliance with the academy’s bylaws, creating quite the kerfuffle in result.


As the New York Times reports, “some of the deepest planned changes have not met procedural requirements in the group’s bylaws and have yet to be enacted.” An academy spokeswoman admitted this snag to the Times on Monday.

President Cheryl Boone Isaacs had announced her intention to nominate three new governing board members, all of whom would be confirmed by the extant board. The intended effect was to “immediately increase diversity.” However, it seems the academy did not have its ducks in a row so that this change could be implemented without a membership vote. From the Times:

“Changing the process of adding new board members requires a major revision of the academy’s bylaws , which specify the board’s makeup and electoral procedures. But any such revision, according to bylaws approved last June, can occur only by a vote of the membership, or at a governors meeting for which notice of particular changes has been provided at least 10 days in advance. That notice was not provided for the special meeting.

Now the board restructuring, and perhaps other changes, must pass muster at the board’s next session, which will occur after the Oscar broadcast on Sunday.”

Isaacs has also voiced her intention “to add new members to internal committees.” However, while the academy president may nominate committee chairpeople, “the bylaws, as revised last June, do not specifically authorize Ms. Isaacs or the board simply to add women or minority committee members to bolster diversity.” It’s not clear how the governing board will smooth this complication.

Moreover, in spearheading a diversity initiative, Isaacs must tiptoe around regulations prohibiting any politically motivated changes:

“‘As the academy is nonpolitical, it shall take no part in public issues regarding economic, political, or religious questions,’ reads one crucial bylaws provision. Under this provision, any two members of the governing board can table an action that is seen to represent a political view, or that might affect the economic interests or members in any labor dispute.”

It feels disingenuous to refer to any entity as “nonpolitical,” but the academy does temper this provision with a mission statement that requires “taking a position on issues crucial to the industry’s future” and the far loftier charge of “shaping the future of motion pictures.”

But many regard the academy’s plans for meaningful structural change—however knotted—with a skeptical eye. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, writes the Times that the discussion of so-called “sweeping” reforms has been more or less a publicity stunt.


“The goal was to snatch a lot of favorable P.R., give the appearance of change, and make the protest go away,” Hutchinson argues.

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Adrastra, patron saint of not giving a fuck

I propose Emma Thompson’s recent suggestion:

“Let’s face it, the Oscar membership is mainly old, white men. That’s the fact of it. So, either you wait for them all to die...Or kill them off slowly—I mean, I don’t know. There’s so many options, aren’t there?”