After weeks of speculation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors—a group that includes high-powered names like Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Steven Spielberg—finally elected their next president on Tuesday night.
As Variety first reported, cinematographer John Bailey, whose work includes The Big Chill, Ordinary People, and As Good as It Gets, was elected AMPAS president in a surprise victory. Bailey was hardly expected to even be in the running for the position—actress Laura Dern was widely speculated to be the frontrunner, which would have made her only the second actress to hold the presidency in over seven decades. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Dern was in fact nominated on Tuesday night, but declined the nomination because of her busy upcoming schedule (Dern will be in Rian Johnson’s upcoming Star Wars film and just signed on to be in Ed Zwick’s next film).
The election of Bailey—an academy veteran who is 74 years old and a white man—may play out to be a controversial one considering the tumultuous and tide-shifting couple of years for the organization. On top of the debt that it has accumulated in its bumbling attempts to build a museum in the heart of Los Angeles, the institution, notorious for its members being largely male and white, has also famously dealt with controversy over its lack of inclusion.
Bailey’s predecessor, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, only the third woman and first African-American in the AMPAS’ history to be president, held the position for the past four years—a time in which the academy endured an onslaught of criticism from the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, a reaction to, among other things, the lack of non-white nominations across all the acting categories in 2015 and 2016. With CEO Dawn Hudson, Boone Isaacs—whose actions as president were both reactionary and transformative—sought to correct the awards’ perceived diversity problems by changing the membership rules and helping to shepherd in a new class of inductees this past June that was record-setting in its demographic representation. The former of these actions caused some outrage among some of the academy’s older existing members.
As the Hollywood Reporter suggests, Bailey’s out-of-nowhere win might turn out to be a victory for the more conservative wing of the board of governors who are attempting to temper the more activist actions that the institution took during Boone Isaacs’ tenure. Bailey is a curious choice for the academy at a time where it is being pushed towards shattering its norms. The famed cinematographer and newly-minted president has a lot on his plate for his one-year term, but let’s hope that he keeps these initiatives at the forefront.