The Oscars legacy of film academy chief Dawn Hudson

One of Hudson’s top priorities was to make the academy more inclusive. She saw the diversification of the organization, which would represent the best and brightest in Hollywood, as not only the right thing to do, but critical to the academy’s survival. Hudson immediately began an internal survey of the demographics of the Academy’s staff, committees, and members, something the organization had never conducted.

Not everyone on the board shared Hudson’s sense of urgency at the time.

“Everyone called us a bunch of old white guys…well, that wasn’t true, but it was pretty close to the truth,” says Ganis. “And Dawn walked in and on the first day she said ‘diversity’ – and she said it in all directions…. There were board members who said, “We need to change,” and I have to say I was one of them. But I don’t think the board was looking for someone to transform the organization.”

Six days after starting work, Hudson and then-academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs called an undisclosed meeting with Spike Lee and other academy members and leaders to discuss how to make the organization more welcoming to underrepresented communities.

As a woman taking the reins of a group that was more than three-quarters male, according to a 2012 Times study, Hudson felt personally the organization’s skewed demographics. “When I started, there were very few women on the board,” she says. “I had a strong feeling that I was one of the few female voices in this room. It was sort of a boys club.”

Elected to the board in July 2016, Dern says she was surprised by how resistant some in the group were to Hudson’s efforts to modernize the institution and how entrenched some of its leaders were in “an old-school ritual of how certain things are accounted for became. ”

“Quite literally every meeting where Dawn came up with something that sounded, you know, 50 years behind its time — not cutting edge, just catching up with a lot of other organizations around the world that were pursuing the same goals — that there are Any resistance has always shocked me,” says Dern.

In 2016, after incremental efforts to increase the organization’s diversity, the academy’s injustices exploded in public. Two straight years of all-white acting nominees sparked the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with outrage on social media and within the industry.

At an event honoring Boone Isaacs in January this year, amid mounting rumors of a possible Oscar boycott, “Selma” star David Oyelowo became one of the first Hollywood celebrities to publicly blast the academy, telling the crowd: “I’m an academician, and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.” After he spoke, Hudson and Boone Isaacs pulled the actor aside to discuss their response to the crisis.

“I remember the three of us huddled together while people chewed on their rubber chicken trying to figure out how to counter what became an outcry,” says Oyelowo. “Here were these two women who cared about people like me and other marginalized voices and said, ‘What can we say to show that we want to change?’ I’ve seen how they both dealt with it, and I found Dawn’s thoughtfulness, ability to listen, and desire to create things that are actionable despite the Academy’s political nature to be truly exemplary.”

Dawn Hudson and David Oyelowo attend the 2019 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Technical Awards

Dawn Hudson and David Oyelowo in 2019.

(Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

Hoping to quell the firestorm, the academy announced a plan, dubbed A2020, to double the number of women and minorities in the group over five years. With thousands of new members from around the world, membership grew by almost 80% to more than 10,000 and goals were met in 2020. Today, the Academy states that 34% of its members identify as female, while 19% come from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities.

Many hailed aggressive efforts to diversify the organization, but some senior Academy members balked at the notion that their ranks needed a radical overhaul, arguing that they were being unfairly scapegoated for industry- and societal-wide problems and that the bar for membership has been reduced.

“The Academy may not have been a full Hall of Fame, but it used to require some artistic achievement to become a member,” says Mechanic. “Now all you have to do is buy a movie ticket.”

Looking back, Hudson wishes she had done more to convey the importance of taking such dramatic steps.

“It’s hard to change breakfast, let alone change a 90-year-old institution,” she says. “People want it in theory, but in practice it creates a sense of loss. I guess I feel more compassion for that kind of resistance now. If I were to do this all over again, I would communicate even more about what the Academy needs to do to stay relevant, how the Academy needs to reflect our film audience and film industry talent that we inadvertently but in our complacency hadn’t previously considered. I feel like we are a much stronger academy now.”

During Hudson’s tenure, the Academy also significantly diversified its leadership. For the first time in the Group’s history, the board, which has grown to 54 governors, now has more women than men. In the last board election, membership from underrepresented racial/ethnic communities increased from 12 to 15. In 2020, the Academy announced a new initiative, Aperture 2025, which aims to further increase representation in the organization’s leadership, membership and workplace culture and the introduction of new inclusion standards for Oscar eligibility.

While the group was reshaping its membership, Hudson was involved in another ambitious and lofty project: building a major film museum in the heart of Los Angeles. Announced in 2012 with an initial budget of $250 million, the project was soon plagued by delays and construction defects.

As the budget swelled, eventually nearly doubling, and fundraising slowed, tensions between board members increased and Hudson’s leadership was again called into question. Despite the setbacks and hand-wringing, Hudson insists she had a firm grip on the museum project.

“Yes, of course there were challenges,” says Hudson. “But when we started the demolition, I thought, ‘Now there’s no turning back.’ We had Tom Hanks, Bob Iger and Annette Bening leading our capital campaign. We wouldn’t lose.”

The commitment of the museum project, both in terms of the nonprofit’s brand and its bottom line, is tremendous. During Hudson’s tenure, the academy’s net worth grew from $289 million in 2011 to $894 million in 2021, according to the group’s most recent financial report. But in a potentially worrying sign for their long-term health, premium income has plummeted after they which had been rising for decades, has leveled off in recent years and is down more than 10% for the fiscal year ended July 2021. The academy’s current deal with ABC ends in 2028. Additionally, the broadcast — or streaming — future of the Oscars is an open question.

In September, after a reassessment of the exhibits to showcase underrepresented voices in Hollywood history, the $480 million museum finally opened. Though fanfare has been muted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the museum sold more than 550,000 tickets in its first nine months, according to the Academy.

“We wouldn’t have a museum if it weren’t for Dawn and her vision and commitment to the city’s civic and cultural life and industry,” says Kramer. “She saw the need for it.” The Oscars legacy of film academy chief Dawn Hudson

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