New Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Her Historic Election, the Oscars and Her Top Priorities (Q&A)
"When I first joined the board years ago, it would have never entered my mind. But this year, the time's right and I'm deeply honored," says the Academy's first African-American president.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences took an historic step at its board of governors meeting on Tuesday night when it elected Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a longtime Hollywood marketing executive, as its new president. She becomes the first African-American to head the organization and only the third woman. From her new office at the Academy, Boone Isaacs spoke about her new role on Wednesday.
THR: Your election was greeted as historic news. What is your own sense of its significance?
Cheryl Boone Isaacs: We know that it’s big news, but it’s also big to me. And certainly the outpouring of support and congratulations from colleagues and industry folks has been very diverse across the board. People are very excited -- though not more than I am myself because I’m pretty darn excited. I know that it’s news, and I’m extremely proud to be elected president of the Academy. I think when I first joined the board years ago, it never would have entered my mind. But this year, the time’s right and I’m deeply honored and grateful by the trust that has been put in front of me by the board of governors.
THR: The Academy has been consciously trying to diversify its ranks in recent years. What grade would you give it?
Boone Isaacs: An A for effort, absolutely. As you well know in our membership announcement [last month], we saw more of a diverse slate of folks across the branches. I know that's going to continue. The industry on the whole has been making great strides to make their executive ranks more diverse with women and minorities. That has been noticed and will increase. As people are given the opportunity of employment and the opportunity of advancement, therefore being able to qualify for the high standards of the Academy, I know that this number will increase -- around the industry as well as the Academy and the Academy leadership in the future.
THR: Motion picture executive Rob Friedman was expected to be your main competition for the presidency. Has he reached out to you yet?
Boone Isaacs: You know our meetings are closed sessions. But I haven’t really had a chance to speak with anybody yet.
THR: One of the issues that the board will have to address this year is whether to renew Dawn Hudson’s contract as CEO. What’s your view of Dawn’s future with the Academy?
Boone Isaacs: It’s bright. You know it’s only been 12 hours [since the election], but obviously I know Dawn and we’ve had many meetings and discussions. And we’ll be getting into a lot more detail.
THR: The most recent Oscar show attracted more viewers but also a lot of critics. At the end of the day, what was your own opinion of the show?
Boone Isaacs: I enjoyed the show, and I was supportive of bringing back Neil [Meron] and Craig [Zadan] to produce the show. I haven’t met with them yet. I’ll meet with them later today and I’m really excited about that. I’ve been circulating around after the show for many years, but this year I’ll know more and I’m very excited about that. I’ll be very excited to hear their ideas, their plans, their progress. That will be a fun meeting.
THR: Your first announcement today was that the board has decided to create a new branch for casting directors. Does that open the door for a new Oscar category for best casting?
Boone Isaacs: Not at this time. We’ve just announced the fact that we have a new branch. We’ll just be going through that process, but at this moment, it is not on the table. We’re very excited about the new branch, because, as you well know, casting directors have played an essential role in the filmmaking process for years. It is part of the telling of the story, which is motion pictures.
THR: So as you step into the job, what do you consider your top priorities?
Boone Isaacs: Right now, today, my top priorities are meeting with Craig and Neil to talk about the host for the show. Always membership engagement, which Dawn and I will be talking a lot about. The ideas and plans so far have been very successful and will continue to be successful. The membership is very pleased and excited about the advances we’ve made in those areas. And, of course, the museum. I’m sure there will be other issues, but those three, right now, are at the forefront.