Oct. 14 (UPI) -- The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars and serves as Hollywood's de facto governing body, booted legendary producer Harvey Weinstein from its ranks due to mounting sexual assault allegations, a virtual first for the organization.
The academy's 54-member board of governors, which includes such industry luminaries as Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Whoopi Goldberg, met behind closed on Saturday at its posh Beverly Hills headquarters to debate Weinstein's future as the scandal surrounding his conduct with female employees and young actresses continued to worsen.
Two weeks prior to the board's vote, The New York Times published the first in a series of stories describing more than a dozen women over Weinstein's career who said he used his powerful status as a Hollywood heavyweight to sexually harass and assault them. After the Times story, some of Hollywood's leading actresses, including Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, came forward with stories of Weinstein groping or coming onto them in hotel rooms early in their careers. Other actresses have alleged Weinstein raped them.
Weinstein has acknowledged poor conduct with female subordinates, but denies any allegations of nonconsensual sex.
The academy has historically overlooked criminal or unscrupulous behavior among its more-than 8,400 members. Director Roman Polanski remains an academy member despite pleading guilty to sex with a 13-year-old girl. Comedian Bill Cosby remains on the academy's rolls despite dozens of women coming forward with allegations he drugged and raped them.
This time, the academy said booting Weinstein was a necessary step.
"We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What's at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society," the academy's board said in a statement.
The group added that the vote was "well in excess" of the two-thirds majority needed under its bylaws to expel a member.
The decision is a stunning one given Weinstein's long history as an Oscar darling.
His studios, first Miramax and later The Weinstein Company, have been the producers of five Best Picture winners: Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Chicago, The King's Speech and The Artist. Weinstein, who earned a reputation as a relentless arm-twister of Oscar voters, has spearheaded marketing campaigns that resulted in some 300 Oscar nominations and more than 80 wins in various categories, according to the Times.
In 2003, the year Chicago won Best Picture, Weinstein's production company had a hand in four of the five films nominated in the category.
Weinstein was fired from the company he cofounded with his brother earlier in the week, but has pledged to fight his dismissal, arguing none of the allegations postdate a 2014 company policy expressly prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Prior to the academy's decision, the group's U.K. counterpart, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, suspended Weinstein, the first step in his removal. The Producers Guild of America, which gave Weinstein its lifetime achievement award in 2013, will meet early next week to debate whether to revoke his membership, though under the guild's rules, Weinstein has the right to respond to allegations before the guild's board votes on the matter.
Weinstein checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in the wake of the allegations, saying he needs to overcome sex addiction.