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Should James Murdoch Be an Academy Member?

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The Academy earlier announced a cohort of 683 prospective new members who had been invited to join the organisation. Among them is James Rupert Jacob Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and now Chief Executive Officer of 21st Century Fox.

Your initial reaction to the prospect of another Murdoch being invited to join the Academy will make you want to gouge your eyes out in disbelief, and you may not be wrong to think that but maybe not for the reason you expect.

In some respects, his invitation can be entirely justified and those thinking it is just an unfair attempt to woo a powerful exec may, well, okay there is probably an element of that, but no more so than in any other executive invitation. The rules around membership for the executive branch are specific enough to exclude most, but still allow a large amount of discretion.

The first requirement, as outlined here on the Academy’s website, is that an individual must ‘have been functioning for at least five years at a senior executive level and be a driving force  in the creation of motion pictures at an organization producing and/or distributing theatrical motion pictures’. Since 2011 Murdoch has been in either a COO or CEO role at 21st Century Fox and therefore fills the basic job criteria. But here’s where it gets hazy…

As well as this, the following condition needs to met. Either:

  1. have standing in, and made contributions to, the motion picture industry that reflect the high standards of the Academy OR
  2. have, in the judgment of  2/3 of the Executives Branch Executive Committee, otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit, made an outstanding contribution, or demonstrated exceptional promise as a motion picture executive.

In other words, if you have not done enough to warrant an invitation by your own merit, but you have enough friends in the branch willing to nominate you, it’s still possible to receive an invitation. Of course once nominated the Board of Governors still needs to approve this, but this would likely be a formality. In addition to the above, ‘the organization at which the candidate has achieved the qualifying position should be a company which has been producing and/ or releasing pictures for the most recent five years, and has released at least three theatrical features (two for Animated features) during that span’ – so at least he clearly ticks that box.

Eligibility based on the above, whether you agree with the criteria itself or not, is clearly ok, but when you begin looking at Murdoch’s professional background it’s easy to question exactly what discretion is being used to approve his invitation.

Here are just some of the excerpts on 21st Century Fox’s biography of James Murdoch, regarding his roles at the company:

  • he has been a key driver of the Company’s domestic and international expansion
  • His significant operational experience also includes tenures as CEO of both BSkyB and STAR, India’s number one entertainment broadcaster
  • Mr. Murdoch had a broad purview across the Company’s global portfolio of businesses, and direct responsibility for its cable and broadcasting networks and properties
  • played an integral role in a number of strategic transactions, including the separation of the former News Corp into two distinct Companies, the combination of the Endemol Shine Group joint venture, the acquisition of the YES Network, and, through the creation of Sky Deutschland and the combination of Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia and BSkyB, the creation of the European entertainment leader Sky plc.
  • co-founded and chaired Rawkus Entertainment, a seminal Hip Hop independent based in lower Manhattan

No doubt Murdoch has been a prolific businessman within the publishing and broadcast industries, but even on the company’s own website there is zero mention of his direct involvement in the production of theatrical motion pictures.

What about his IMDB filmography then? Take a look below at the complete filmography of prospective Academy member James Rupert Jacob Murdoch:

James Murdoch Filmography

You will not find anywhere an example of Murdoch being actively involved in the delivery of a single motion picture, and if both IMDB or even Fox’s own biography of their CEO has nothing to brag about, it seems quite absurd that he is being considered for membership to an organisation which is famously elitist towards those that have made a significant contribution to the motion picture industry.

There is obviously an argument that his contributions at an executive level shape the industry within which films can be funded, produced and distributed in the most effective way possible. Valid point, but the real question here is not whether he deserves to be recognised for what he has done, but whether he deserves to be recognising others for achievements he is not qualified to judge.

The absolute truth is, we do not know if James Murdoch can vote for an Academy Award. Details of exactly which branches, and who within those branches, are eligible to receive a ballot are not published and the Academy are notoriously secretive about such specifics.

What is most concerning here is the invitation system for an organisation claiming to promote, educate and acknowledge achievements in the motion picture industry is not appropriately defined to restrict membership to those who have made specific contributions to the motion picture industry. As such people like Murdoch, who run a company that has a motion picture division but has little to deal with it, is allowed to join and potentially vote on awards such as Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Original Song, Production Design – on what basis can he be justified to know anything about this, and how can his inclusion in the Academy in any way validate or contribute to their objectives?

Make no mistake, this is not an attack on the Murdochs but an example of how by 2020, even with an entirely diverse, semi-vaginal membership, the Academy could still potentially be comprised of voters who have never made a film in their life. In which case they still have a long way to go before criticism of the awards’ credibility and fairness can be finally put to rest.

Oscar and film awards expert. American Beauty, Grease and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are prominent DVDs on my shelf.

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Best Popular Category Had ‘Stake Driven Through Its Heart’, But Isn’t Dead Says Oscars President

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John Bailey, the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (who oversees the Oscars), has spoken candidly about the awards show’s bid to bring in more viewers with a distinct ‘Best Achievement in Popular Film’ award.

You’ll remember it as being the category that suffered a very public and embarrassing controversy in which Academy members openly rejected it earlier in the year, prompting the organisation to ‘temporarily shelve’ their plans until they could conduct a proper review. Speaking at the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Bailey stated that the award had “seemed like a good idea, the board approved it, announced it, but we got a lot of pushback.”

“So the board reconsidered and tabled it – which is not to say that the idea is dead. Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.”

The Academy has a “generous” deal with ABC, who have agreed to fund and air the telecast until 2028. The challenge, in those intervening years, is to somehow save the show from haemorrhaging even more viewers. As Bailey says: “We have another decade, and we’re already starting to deal with the problem. There’s desire to expand the awards to millennials, many of whom do not have TV.”

ABC, who are majority-owned by the Walt Disney Corporation, may take some umbrage with the idea of no longer being the sole home of the Oscars, but one idea that has been repeatedly floating around is to air the telecast on the forthcoming Disney+ streaming service – a more palatable option, perhaps, for younger viewers.

However, when it comes to the concept of new categories that aren’t Best Popular, Bailey was considerably more cagey. Asked if we could see awards for motion-capture, stunt-performers, or achievements in casting, the president said: “A number of different crafts would like to be represented and there are ongoing discussions about creating new branches, but right now we’re trying to reduce the size of the board. However, nothing is written in stone.”

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Black Panther Faces Uphill Battle With Academy Voters In Bid For Awards Success

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It’s no secret that Marvel Studios’ head Kevin Feige wants an Oscar. And not just any Oscar, at that. No, much like Walt Disney before him, Feige wants to position one of his features – traditionally not in the wheelhouse of the average Academy voter – and push it (in this case, director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther) towards a Best Picture win.

With the Academy’s retraction of their proposed ‘Best Popular’ category, Marvel’s movies’ chances looked – in all honest – scuppered, at least for any kind of non-technical nomination. But that hasn’t deterred Disney and Marvel Studios from pushing ahead regardless, and reports are coming in that the standard studio schmoozing, soirees and cocktail gatherings that accompany Best Picture bids have begun in Black Panther’s favour.

That’s not to say, of course, that it’ll be an easy sell. At a voter-screening and Q&A in August – six months after it released in cinemas to the tune of over $1 billion worldwide – 75% of the Academy members in attendance admitted that it was their first time seeing the feature. Despite the fact that the film had connected with general audiences in the way that it had, and become the pop cultural meta-success of the year, the film is so far outside of the Academy’s comfort zone that the picture faces a genuine uphill battle for a shot at a nomination. In a year in which it was the mega-hit to beat, Black Panther has become the underdog.

Coogler, who took the majority of the year off to recuperate after a packed press run and a lengthy production schedule on the superhero flick, recently reappeared in LA social circles at a Hollywood event last month and has begun the rounds in order to help Black Panther’s chances. Star Chadwick Boseman has also been incredibly proactive in campaigning for the film, meeting as many Academy members as possible. Scheduling hasn’t always been in the feature’s favour, however. Michael B. Jordan, the film’s most legitimate shot for an acting nomination, has been in high-demand, and is presently shooting Just Mercy in Atlanta.

When asked about the film in recent months, however, Jordan has eschewed awards talk in favour of focusing on the film’s cultural impact: “One of my highlights was just watching kids react to it and seeing themselves on-screen,” he’s on record saying, “Having people watch the movie four or five times, taking church members, taking boys’ and girls’ clubs — kids that didn’t have the opportunity to actually go to the movie theatre, they were bussing them in to see this film. To be a part of something that big and impactful is really important.”

Superhero films have, traditionally, been ignored entirely by the Academy. Last year’s nomination for Logan, under Best Adapted Screenplay, came as a surprise to many. But perhaps change is coming, and Feige may just get his wish. The nominations for 2019’s Oscars ceremony will be announced on the 22nd January, so there’s less than three months until the big reveal. Meanwhile, Black Panther is out now on 4K, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital, rated 12A.

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Here Are All 25 Films Officially Submitted For The Best Animated Oscar Race

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation responsible for hosting and running the annual Oscars ceremony, has revealed a full list of the twenty-five films submitted for consideration and shortlisting in the Best Animated Feature Film category.

The complete list is, alphabetically, as follows:

  • Ana y Bruno
  • Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
  • Early Man
  • Fireworks
  • Have a Nice Day
  • Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
  • Incredibles 2
  • Isle of Dogs
  • The Laws of the Universe – Part 1
  • Liz and the Blue Bird
  • Lu over the Wall
  • MFKZ
  • Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
  • Mirai
  • The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
  • On Happiness Road
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Ruben Brandt, Collector
  • Sgt. Stubby: American Hero
  • Sherlock Gnomes
  • Smallfoot
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Tall Tales
  • Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
  • Tito and the Birds

Five nominees will be shortlisted from the list, and submitted for final voting on the 22nd of January, 2019. As things stand, the submission list is arguably one of the weakest in modern memory, with Wes Anderson’s stop-motion feature Isle of Dogs and Disney Pixar’s CG animated flick Incredibles 2 the clear front-runners.

The 91st Academy Awards will take place on the 24th of February next year, at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

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