Busan: Cheryl Boone Isaacs on the Rise of Asian Cinema and Promoting Diversity in the Academy

Aaron Fallon
Cheryl Boone Isaacs

The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences arrived in South Korea to give a keynote speech at Asia's largest film festival.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), says the Academy is striving harder to reflect the cultural diversity of the global film industry, particularly given the rise of new markets in Asia.

"Asia is absolutely on the forefront of the film industry, building theaters, allowing populations to experience movie-going. South America is growing as well and next is Africa. We have been around the motion picture business for 100 years but I really feel like it's just the beginning," the marketing executive told reporters during the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on Tuesday.

Isaacs attended Asia's largest film festival, just as the Academy forges closer ties with the region. In 2013, China's Wanda Group invested $20 million in the Academy's museum and Isaacs attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the Chinese conglomerate's new Qingdao film studio.

"China is a big country with lots of folks, and India has had a successful and thriving motion picture business for a long, long time. Korea is big and is getting bigger, and there is a lot of interest from young filmmakers to be in the business here," she said.

Five new Korean filmmakers were admitted to AMPAS this year: filmmakers Im Kwon-taek (Revivre) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), actors Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer) and Choi Min-sik (OldboyLucy), and Jin Kim, character design supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios. "The Academy has always been interested in international filmmakers. And we stepped up this effort by recognizing talent from the world," she said.

The Academy, furthermore, is striving hard to represent the diverse ethnic and cultural communities back home, such as Asian Americans, she said. "Yes, historically the Academy has been a bit older," she said when asked about the conservative image of the organization comprising of mostly white males. "The diversity issue is a very good one. It is allowing people to talk about it. With that, we are seeing a change. It could be faster, but we are seeing it." Isaacs herself is AMPAS' first African-American and third woman leader.

"There is a wider pool of talent we are recognizing. The past year, we had the largest class of new members that was very diverse. And that will continue. It's impossible for change to happen overnight. But the organization is committed to keeping our eyes open and recognizing that talent," she said.

Discussions, furthermore, at the Academy have expanded in recent years to address the ever-evolving world of the way motion pictures are distributed and promoted — through mobile devices and social media.

"One big thing that has changed over the last 15, 10, five years is the Internet and social media. That has changed marketing strategy for not just motion pictures but also everything. The power of social media is growing exponentially to reach the broadest audience in the quickest time," she said.

Added Isaacs: "Motion pics can be seen on your phone and in the theater, etc. There are some that think the theatergoing experience is waning but I don't think so. We are seeing a number of different ways of distribution and I think all of it is good, because it shows interest in the media. It's a big conversation."

Isaacs will give a keynote speech at 1:20 pm (Korea Standard Time), Wednesday, at the BIFF Research Institute's 5th annual conference and forum.

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