With current president Cheryl Boone Isaacs set to term out at the end of July, the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon be voting on new leadership. A handful of contenders have been bubbling up, but one particularly compelling name has just been tossed into the hat: two-time Oscar nominee Laura Dern.
Sources tell Variety the actress is interested in taking the reins after being elected to the board of governors last July. If she runs and wins, it would be a splashy choice, not least of all because Dern is Hollywood royalty, the daughter of Oscar-nominated actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. She would also be the fourth woman to hold the office, after Isaacs, Bette Davis and Fay Kanin — not an incidental footnote given the organization’s push for diversity as of late.
Dern did not respond to a request for comment. It’s generally frowned upon by the Academy for anyone to be seen as campaigning for the position of president.
A handful of actors have held the top seat over the years, including Douglas Fairbanks (the Academy’s first president), Gregory Peck and Karl Malden, in addition to Davis. Dern is well-liked in the community, and enjoys a close relationship with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, who is said to be urging the actress to run for the position. It is an open secret that Isaacs and Hudson have had a strained relationship from the get-go.
Dern is coming off a hot streak as of late, including Golden Globe-winning work in HBO’s “Enlightened,” an Oscar nomination for Jean-Marc Vallee’s 2014 film “Wild” and a swell of critical love for her performance in Vallee’s HBO limited series “Big Little Lies” this year. Her upcoming credits include the next Star Wars film, the “Twin Peaks” television series, and “Hard Powder” with Liam Neeson. Given her full dance card, it’s not clear how much time she would have to devote to the unpaid position.
Others rumored to be in the mix include “Field of Dreams” director Phil Alden Robinson, casting director David Rubin (who produced the Academy’s Governors Awards ceremony last November) and costume designer Jeffrey Kurland. Former Lionsgate co-chairman Rob Friedman is also said to be interested in the post, but he would first have to once again win a board seat (Isaacs’) in the governors election to be eligible, since only members of the board can run for president. Friedman ran against Isaacs in 2013.
Rubin would not discuss Academy matters. Robinson and Kurland could not be reached for comment.
Friday, April 28, is the deadline for those submitting for consideration in the governors election. Nomination balloting runs May 15-19 with final balloting running June 19-23. The Academy will vote on the new president after those results are revealed in July.
Isaacs, an Academy member since 1987, has overseen some of the most publicly tumultous years in the organization’s 90-year history. Within one year of her original 2013 election, the subject of diversity in the industry and in the Academy’s annual Oscar choices became a topic of discussion, as Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” battled all the way to best picture glory.
The #OscarsSoWhite movement sprang to life the following year, as movies like “Selma” missed key nominations and all 20 acting nominees were white. There was no uptick for actors of color in 2015, and movies like “Beasts of No Nation,” “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” were perceived as under-represented in the nominations.
Along with Hudson, Isaacs led a well-publicized effort to “lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” as she said in a 2016 statement. The organization invited a record number of new members that year from all around the globe. But mere percentage points were added to the Academy’s bottom line when it came to members of color, underscoring a need for the industry at large to produce a more diverse well of talent.
Last year, “Fences,” “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” all received best picture nominations. “Real progress has been made,” Isaacs said at the annual Oscar nominees luncheon, “progress that I am confident will continue in the future.” Nevertheless, this year’s crop of contenders could be a backslide, proving consistency is elusive in the absence of a wide variety of inclusive movies.
“Moonlight” ultimately stunned the industry by claiming the best picture prize. But a would-be victory lap for Isaacs’ tenure was marred somewhat by the fact that Barry Jenkins’ film won amid on-stage chaos and confusion. Actress Faye Dunaway was handed the wrong envelope, and mistakenly announced that “La La Land” had won the top honor.