Janet Yang, the Queens-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, has been elected the 36th president in the 95-year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The 66-year-old, who broke into showbiz by connecting key players in the Chinese and Hollywood film industries to make possible films like Empire of the Sun before becoming a producer of films including The Joy Luck Club and The People vs. Larry Flynt, is just the fourth female (after Bette Davis, Fay Kanin and Cheryl Boone Isaacs) and second person of color (after Boone Isaacs) ever tapped by the Academy’s board to hold the board’s top job.
A member of the producers branch since 2002, Yang defeated DeVon Franklin, a member of the executives branch since 2016. Both candidates have served on the Academy’s board of governors since 2019 as governors-at-large. Three seats for governors-at-large were added to the board in the aftermath of the #OscarsSoWhite scandal, intended for non-white and non-male individuals who would be tasked with advocating for inclusion in the board’s activities. They are the only governors who are not elected by the members of their branch, but are instead appointed by the president and approved by the board. And Yang is the first governor-at-large to ascend to the presidency.
Yang succeeds David Rubin, a casting director who had served as president since first being elected in 2019, but who was forced by term limits to depart from the board (and therefore also the presidency) for at least two years, after which he will be eligible for one final three-year term on the board (and, potentially, as president — officers are elected to one-year terms) before reaching the lifetime maximum of 12 years of board service.
Given that the position of Academy president is not a full-time or paying gig (unlike the position of Academy CEO, which was recently filled by Bill Kramer), Yang will presumably continue as the head of Janet Yang Productions, which develops screen projects with Asian themes, such as the animated feature Over the Moon, which was Oscar-nominated in 2021. Her prior work also brought her Golden Globe and Emmy awards.
“Janet is a tremendously dedicated and strategic leader who has an incredible record of service at the Academy,” Kramer said in a statement. “She has been instrumental in launching and elevating several Academy initiatives on membership recruitment, governance, equity, diversity and inclusion. I am thrilled that she is taking on the esteemed role of Academy president and look forward to working closely with her on our shared vision to serve our membership, celebrate the collaborative arts and sciences of motion pictures and inspire the next generation of filmmakers.”
Known in Hollywood as “the godmother of Asian-Americans in the industry,” Yang, who earned a B.A. from Brown University and an M.B.A. from Columbia University, has long devoted much of her extracurricular time to helping Asians and Asian-Americans break into and advance in the business. She became particularly active in the Academy after Chris Rock made Asian children the butt of a joke on the 2016 Oscars telecast, bringing together Academy members of Asian descent to lean on the organization’s leadership to do better. Yang now chairs the board’s Asian and Asian-American Affinity Group.
Over the past year, Yang — like Franklin — served on the executive committee of her branch and as one of the board’s eight vice presidents. She oversaw the the board’s membership and governance committee, which reviews new member applications and issues that arise with current members. In the past, she was also involved with the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships initiative and served on the board’s governance task force.
In June, she was feted at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where a pillar was dedicated and a dinner was held in her honor. It was widely speculated, given the impressive nature of the evening (which included a multimedia presentation and numerous speakers about her life and career), that a presidential run might be in her sights — and, given the high turnout of fellow Academy board members and other industry power-players, that a win might be attainable.
Also elected on Tuesday to serve as officers of the board:
- Teri E. Dorman, Vice President (chair, Membership Committee)
- Donna Gigliotti, Vice President/Secretary (chair, Governance Committee)
- Lynette Howell Taylor, Vice President (chair, Awards Committee)
- Larry Karaszewski, Vice President (chair, History and Preservation Committee)
- David Linde, Vice President/Treasurer (chair, Finance Committee)
- Isis Mussenden, Vice President (chair, Museum Committee)
- Kim Taylor-Coleman, Vice President (chair, Equity and Inclusion Committee)
- Wynn P. Thomas, Vice President (chair, Education and Outreach Committee)
This will be Dorman, Howell Taylor and Taylor-Coleman’s first stints as officers.