THR’s awards columnist Scott Feinberg assesses the landscape of a post-Harvey Academy.
In the wake of a slew of allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape that have emerged over the last 10 days, Harvey Weinstein has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hosts and votes for the Oscars, with which he was virtually synonymous throughout his four decades in the business. Since its founding in 1927, the Academy has only previously expelled one other member: Carmine Caridi, an actor who violated policy against loaning out screeners.
Following complaints against Weinstein by dozens of women, calls for his expulsion by many Academy members (including Weinstein’s own brother and business partner) and petitions signed by thousands from the general public, today’s verdict seemed all but inevitable. Nobody, with the possible exceptions of Lindsay Lohan (who voiced some sympathy for the mogul) and Weinstein himself, is shedding any tears over this latest twist in a saga that has rocked Hollywood, along with the rest of the country.
Now, though, the Academy will face more difficult decisions: how to deal with the not inconsiderable number of others among its membership of 8,427 who have checkered pasts of their own and who now are being targeted by those who want to purge the industry of sexual predators.
There is Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse with a minor and then fled the country. Bill Cosby has been charged with one sexual crime and has faced allegations of dozens of others. And Stephen Collins has admitted to sexual misconduct with three minors. All three men still belong to the organization. (Woody Allen, who has never been charged with anything, but has faced serious allegations, never accepted an invitation to join.)
There are other members who fall into a grayer area. Casey Affleck, for instance, was accused of sexual harassment, but reached a settlement with his accuser and was never prosecuted. (As the most recent best actor Oscar winner, Affleck is expected to present the best actress Oscar at the next ceremony.) The actor/director Nate Parker was charged with rape and was found not guilty, but still became a pariah after damning details of the case became public and it was learned his accuser had committed suicide. And, in recent days, allegations have been made about various forms of sexual harassment on the part of several other prominent filmmakers.
There are also other members who have behaved badly in other ways — Mel Gibson screamed slurs against Jews and women en route to a DUI arrest, many have financially ripped off collaborators and there is a long list of people in positions of power who scream and sometimes even throw things at their underlings.
(All of these sorts of people are a problem not only for the Academy, but for other Hollywood organizations, as well. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences still counts Donald Trump as one of its members, even though he has admitted on tape that he has sexually assaulted women. And, according to sources, Weinstein, Cosby and Collins are all also members of the TV Academy, although a spokesperson for that organization refused to confirm or deny any of those names.)
The film Academy hasn’t made a full list of its members public since its early days. Ostensibly, that’s because the organization wants to spare its members from being lobbied during awards season — which is ridiculous, because all distributors own or rent cobbled-together lists of members and lobby the members anyway. (Plus, the Academy has, since 2004, disclosed who it has invited each year to become new members.) The real reason for guarding the full membership list may be that the Academy doesn’t want the public to start weighing in about who should or should not be members. But that’s about to happen anyway.
At the end of its short statement today, the Academy said, “The Board continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify.” It’s possible that the Academy eventually will allow members who have behaved problematically in the past to remain, while setting a standard that all members will be expected to live up to going forward. If so, that will do little to appease the growing chorus of people who want other problem members — including many of those listed above — out of the organization immediately. And it’s a fairly good bet that unless and until those members are dealt with, some will call for a boycott of the Oscars, a tactic that proved effective at the height of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
The Academy technically is a private organization, so its board is entitled to do whatever it wants, as long as it stays within its own bylaws, which it can change at any time. But as an organization that (a) derives the lion’s share of its budget from the Oscars broadcasting rights that it sells for a lot of money because a lot of people tune in to watch, and (b) is in the midst of trying to raise millions of dollars to pay for its already-under-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, it is very susceptible to pressure.
That means that the Academy will have to decide — and soon — where exactly the line is between bad behavior that is acceptable and unacceptable; whether or not it will consider allegations against its members that are made anonymously; whether a member will be assumed to be guilty anytime someone makes an allegation, or will be given some form of due process; and the list goes on. Otherwise, the Oscars itself — which is slated to take place for the 90th time on March 4, 2018 — may become the next target.