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Why the film industry chose former Sen. Chris Dodd to run the MPAA

Former Sen. Christopher Dodd is the new chairman and CEO of the film industry's MPAA, taking a position filled for four decades by the flamboyant Jack Valenti.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 2, 2011

Christopher Dodd, seen in this November 2010 file photo, is taking over as head of the Motion Picture Association of America. The film industry group named Dodd as its new chairman and chief executive officer on Tuesday. Dodd begins his new job March 17.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP / File

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Los Angeles

The appointment of former US Senator Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut to head the Motion Picture Association of America – announced March 1 – is being widely applauded by film industry watchers and cinema academics.

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The MPAA was formed in 1922 with two primary objectives, says Howard Suber, professor emeritus of the UCLA School of Film. One was to deal with attacks from outside, such as the calls for more regulation of sex and violence onscreen, and the other to advance the industry's interests – like any other lobbying organization.

By appointing Christopher Dodd, the MPAA is going back to its roots of choosing major Washington politicos, says Professor Suber.

“The MPAA began by hiring an important Washington insider who ... had major contacts without being perceived as too partisan,” says Suber, referring to Will Hays, who had run President Warren Harding’s successful 1920 presidential campaign.

“Christopher Dodd has the certain kind of class, breadth and depth that the MPAA has always looked for,” says Suber. “He is an elder statesman.”

The film industry is at a critical juncture, as one of America’s largest export industries faces piracy in foreign markets and dwindling audiences at home. Attendance is 22 percent lower than this time last year, ratings for Sunday’s Oscarcast was down 10 percent, and DVD sales have plummeted.

The times call for savvy in finance and international relations, both strong suits for Dodd, says Toby Miller, professor and chair of the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

“Hollywood is a major employer and export earner," says Professor Miller. "Most of Hollywood revenue comes from DVDs, downloads, and TV. Cinema attendance hasn't been its major contribution economically for decades. Our overseas image is affected by what Hollywood produces. And this job is the key point person to D.C. in terms of regulation, stimulus, and piracy.”

Dodd may have some bumpy going in Washington, Suber warns, because he was a major force behind the health care program that Republicans want to dismantle.

In addition, since Dodd just stepped down from the Senate, by law he cannot directly lobby Congress – on behalf of Hollywood or anyone else – for two years, says Nancy Snow, professor of communications at California State University at Fullerton.

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