Here’s a wish for Tuesday:
Sometime during the day, governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will meet to elect new officers, including a president to replace termed-out David Rubin. I wish they would choose a Great Communicator for the top job.
The film Academy already has a Great Operator running its staff in the person of recently appointed Bill Kramer. Less than a month on the job, Kramer has already restructured management (a new 14-member ‘masthead’ on the Oscars.org Web site integrates Academy and Museum officers), re-ordered priorities (appointment of an executive vice-president for revenue and business development points toward fiscal rigor), and laid track for a possible repositioning of the Oscar ceremony (the Academy having quietly trimmed about four years off of a long-term commitment to the Dolby Theater, perhaps in return for waiving a one-time out that might have let it dump the Dolby altogether after the 2024 show).
There’s every reason to believe that Kramer, who is articulate and not shy, could also serve as principal spokesman for the Academy in his role as chief executive.
But the members, around 10,000 of them at this point, deserve to have an elected president, one of their own, serving as their collective voice—to be their Communicator.
It’s a function that has become considerably diminished in the last decade, as a series of presidents—Rubin, John Bailey, Cheryl Boone-Isaacs—retreated from the more freewheeling public posture of previous top officers—Hawk Koch, Tom Sherak, Sidney Ganis.
Partly, it was a matter of professional background. Rubin, a casting director, and Bailey, a cinematographer, were clearly rooted in a Hollywood tradition that has restricted most communication to the public relations pros. Neither talked much publicly, and when they did speak, it was carefully, and often in tandem with Kramer’s predecessor, Dawn Hudson.
Similarly, Boone-Isaacs, though a marketing and PR professional, was fairly tight-lipped. An old-school executive, she seemed to believe that Hollywood’s business was Hollywood’s business, and mostly none of yours—a contrast with the prior three presidents, who were notably outgoing.
But Tuesday brings an inflection point. The next president, to be elected by and from among a 54-member governing board, will be in the hot spot eight months from now when the Academy finally implements an elaborate, long-promised system of racial, gender and disability standards and quotas governing Best Picture contenders.
The Identity Oscars are going to take a lot of explaining, both to contenders and to the public at large.
Already, questions are bubbling up in the expanded FAQ section of the Representation and Inclusion Standards Entry platform, on which Oscar contenders are required to enter data about their performers, filmmakers, crew, distributors and content.
Yes, says the platform, it is necessary for all of the hundreds of Oscar-submitted pictures to create a RAISE entry, even if they don’t want to be considered for Best Picture, “as we cannot distinguish a Best Picture entry at the point of submission.”
No, the platform says, you cannot review your own submission until you have entered information for all of the many standards. (And if you check a box saying you are unable to provide information on any one point, you’ll have to give a minimum 10-word explanation of your failure. “None of your business” or “I was stopped by privacy concerns” won’t quite do it.)
Of course, the bigger questions will arise when the Academy inevitably discloses its list of films that qualify under the inclusion standards—leaving the unqualified, if any, to explain their exclusion. Are they racist? Are they sexist? Are they simply films born in a national culture that is less multi-ethnic or diversity-conscious than our own?
And if no films are disqualified, why are we doing this at all?
According to the current whisper (from where it comes, I have no idea), front-runners in the Academy’s closed-door presidential race are Janet Yang and DeVon Franklin, both of whom were appointed as governors-at-large—representing no specific branch–under the board’s diversity initiative.
In truth, their provenance matters less than their powers of persuasion. As the next president, Yang, or Franklin, or anyone else will at last have to sell this new system as best for the Academy and for the industry it serves.