For Oscar board, ache has begun

'Start of a very tough chapter'

By Brooks Barnes
  • Published 16.10.17
Harvey Weinstein

Los Angeles: The ouster of Harvey Weinstein from the roughly 8,400-member academy, although largely symbolic, is stunning because the organisation is not known to have taken such action before.

Not when Roman Polanski, a member, pleaded guilty in a sex crime case involving a 13-year-old girl; not when women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby, a member, of sexual assault; and not when Mel Gibson went on anti-Semitic tirade during a drunken-driving arrest in 2006 or pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an old girlfriend in 2011.

Now, the academy may be forced to contend with other problem members.

Scott Feinberg, the longtime awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, said, "This may well be the beginning of a very tough chapter for the academy. The next thing that is going to happen, rightly or wrongly, is that a wide variety of constituencies are going to demand that the academy similarly address other problematic members."

Feinberg added that he was speaking of academy members like Polanski and Stephen Collins, the 7th Heaven actor who admitted in 2014 that he molested teenage girls in past decades, which resulted in police investigations in New York and Los Angeles.

Before Weinstein - who built two studios on the back of the Academy Awards - only one person was known to have been permanently expelled from the academy. Carmine Caridi, a character actor, had his membership revoked in 2004 for violating an academy rule involving Oscar voting. He got caught lending DVD screeners of contending films; copies ended up online.

The academy's board, roughly 40 per cent female, includes Hollywood titans like Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, the Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, Tom Hanks, the documentarian Rory Kennedy and Jim Gianopulos, the chairman of Paramount Pictures.

In an example of Weinstein's reach, at least 10 governors have worked on films that he produced or that his studios have released. One board member, Christina Kounelias, now an executive vice-president at Participant Media, started her career at Miramax, working in publicity for four years.

The board's president is John Bailey, a cinematographer whose credits include Ordinary People, a winner of the 1981 Academy Award for best picture, and Groundhog Day. Lois Burwell, who is listed as its first vice-president, is a make-up artist who won an Oscar in 1996 for her work on Braveheart.

The meeting of the board was called on Wednesday. In the days leading up to it, as the industry was grappling with new public accusations against Weinstein, The Times and on social media, some board members spoke among themselves to see if they could reach an informal consensus on how a vote on the mogul's status would go.

Kathleen Kennedy, an eight-time Oscar nominee, told fellow board members that she was outraged by the allegations, according to a person briefed on advance discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comply with academy confidentiality strictures.

But Kennedy was also said to be aware that pushing him out could put the academy on a slippery slope. The Saturday meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that expelled Weinstein began at 10am and lasted until roughly 12.30pm.

It was held inside a colossal conference room on the seventh floor of the academy's mirrored-glass tower on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. As with all academy board meetings, voting was anonymous. Some participants participated via speakerphone.

The discussion was largely contained to Weinstein, who is facing allegations of sexual allegations and rape, but the board spent some time talking about the implications of censuring him. Roman Polanski, a member who pleaded guilty in a sex crime case, was one name mentioned.

In addition to the seriousness and plenitude of the allegations against Weinstein, the board concentrated on workplace abuse. Weinstein allegedly often used the pretext of meetings - casting sessions, script discussions - to lure women to hotel rooms.

In outlining duties for the board of governors, the academy's bylaws say: "Any member of the academy may be suspended or expelled for cause by the board of governors. Expulsion or suspension as herein provided for shall require the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of all the governors."

No person has been more closely associated with the Academy Awards in recent decades than Weinstein, who won a best picture Oscar in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love and who orchestrated campaigns that resulted in more than 80 statuettes for films released by the studios he ran, including best picture Oscars for Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Chicago, The King's Speech and The Artist.

New York Times News Service