In the end it probably was not too surprising that Cheryl Boone Isaacs was elected President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences at last night’s Board of Governors meeting. As I pointed out in my election preview last week, she is the only one in Academy history to have served in every elected office the Academy has – VP, Treasurer, Secretary, Academy Foundation President, First Vice President most recently, and even produced last year’s Governors Awards. That the Board essentially elevated her up one notch to President after her 21 years of service seems a natural. Then again it doesn’t always go down the “natural” way in show business.
But of course her election is historic for another reason. She becomes only the third woman (after Fay Kanin and a combative two-week stint in 1941 for Bette Davis) and first African-American to become Academy President. Much is being made in the media of the latter distinction, but Boone Isaacs just shrugs it off. With Dawn Hudson as CEO and now Boone Isaacs as President, plus a record 14 women on the Board Of Governors and a meaningful drive toward diversity in the overall membership, it is going to be harder than ever for critics to haul out the usual ‘It’s just an old white man’s club’ description when talking about this new age Academy, even though it is a long way from completely changing its image. But I think more than anything Boone Isaac’s election is a vote for stability in an organization trying to come to grips with a changing business and world. She’s a familiar face, and well-liked within the Academy and that goes a long way in this prestigious position she has now inherited from outgoing one-term President Hawk Koch. When I spoke to Boone Isaacs this morning she was basking in the glory of her election, but definitely looking to the future.
DEADLINE: What was it like when you learned you had been elected?
CHERYL BOONE ISAACS: It was very exciting and a little bit of an out-of-body experience. I wished I had a camera to watch myself. I am so honored. You know I have been part of this organization for such a long time and I have great respect for it. I am beyond thrilled and just grateful that I am going to be part of it even in a bigger way than I have been through the years. There will always be new challenges but I do have an understanding of this organization and its tradition and certainly with that tradition of moving the organization into the future.
DEADLINE: The Academy has been moving at a faster pace recently than in the past. Is continuing that part of your agenda?
CBI: Certainly I will be involved in the movement forward. It’s only been 12 hours so far for me to really get immersed. It’s like everything. We evolve and keep moving forward. Member engagement is at the forefront of our agenda, and the museum. And of course the next generation of filmmakers. All of those things propel this organization forward.
DEADLINE: How important is the museum for the Academy in your view?
CBI: It’s very important. We really need to have a world famous museum. I don’t think anybody can think of a better organization to be at the forefront of building, producing and opening a museum. It’s perfect for the Academy and I have been involved obviously but now even more. It’s a great thing. It’s great for our industry, our city, the state, the country and for the world. I think we all believe it will be a tremendous hit right off the bat. We have a great story to tell, in fact many stories to tell as it relates to our members and the branches and the skill and the expertise that it takes to mount a motion picture. It is a part of our legacy and the motion picture business, and its impact on culture around the world.
DEADLINE: The media is making a lot of the fact you are the first African-American and only the third woman to lead the Academy. And the Academy has been very visible leading a movement for diversity within its ranks. How important has that been to you?
CBI: It’s a great thing. I certainly applaud our past presidents and Dawn in their efforts to diversify our members and our leadership. It’s been successful. We will always look for the cream of the crop, the very best and the folks at the top of their profession. What has been terrific is how many women have come in. We need to really pump up the diversity of minorities that continue to make movies and welcome as many as possible into the Academy. It is really the advancement of women and minorities within the industry across the board and that’s what great. It’s about making opportunities and leadership throughout our industry which then would impact the involvement here within the Academy.
DEADLINE: The Presidency of the Academy in recent years has evolved into almost a full-time position. Will you follow that?
CBI: I am going to be extremely active and I will be here most of the time. Although I have held most of the positions here it is not the same as being President. I am on a learning curve about my day-to-day right now. We’ll see. There’s so much and we have made tremendous strides in the last couple of years and we will continue to. I am here 100% as we go through changes and evolution of this great organization.
DEADLINE: Do you plan to make the membership meeting that took place in LA, NY and SF in May an annual event?
CBI: It was very successful. It was terrific. It is on my list of things to get to and figure out if, and when (we do it again).
DEADLINE: And what about the Oscar show? What are your plans on involvement in that. You already have the producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron returning. You don’t have to worry about that part of it.
CBI: Yes, isn’t that wonderful? As you well know that train is moving. I am probably meeting with them today and we’ll be on that train, down those tracks together.
DEADLINE: There was some criticism from different quarters about bringing them back to produce the show again. Are you supportive of the decision and how heavily will you be involved?
CBI: Fully supportive. Yes. I know they will deliver a terrific show. The Oscar show is being produced by Craig and Neil. As President of the Academy we will be in constant communication with the producers of the show. I haven’t sat down yet with them but I will be brought up to speed as to what they’ve been doing and how they are proceeding and I am looking forward to it.
DEADLINE: Any ideas for a host?
CBI: Well we’ll see. I will find out what they’ve been up to and we will announce it when it’s ready.
DEADLINE: Would you support any change in the structure of the show such as taking certain categories off the actual telecast?
CBI: No. That’s a simple no.
DEADLINE: The Board also made news by creating a brand new branch of the Academy for Casting Directors and that will mean three new Governors as well. Is this a good thing?
CBI: It’s a terrific move. The casting directors play an essential role in the filmmaking process. They are very valuable. It’s absolutely terrific.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.