But as the head of a body that takes knocks every year at
Oscar voting time for a 6,000-plus membership that is
overwhelmingly white, mostly male and older, Boone Isaacs offers
no quick fixes for diversifying the academy or the industry.
Experience tells her it's a long haul and it comes down
ultimately to proving excellence in the motion picture industry.
She herself put in 21 years on the academy's Board of Governors,
held every office, and worked three decades in film marketing
before she was elected president last summer.
"I believe very strongly that the entertainment and motion
picture business is going to be more open and aware of different
voices," Boone Isaacs told Reuters in an interview at the
academy's headquarters, a large golden Oscar statuette looming
in the background.
She prefers to talk about voices in storytelling, rather than
gender or race, and steers the conversation on diversity back to
the films competing this year for Hollywood's highest honors.
Boone Isaacs calls it the best year for performances and films
"in the last decade or so," and said there are "quite a few
films that give us a different voice, a more diverse voice."
"The themes for the nine films nominated for Best Picture are
really a wide range. And that is what makes it very special."
There is the possibility that one historic racial barrier might
be broken on her watch on Oscars night. If "12 Years a Slave,"
the slavery drama from British director Steve McQueen, wins Best
Picture, it would be the first time that a black director's film
has taken the top Oscar.
While Boone Isaacs takes a cautious line when talking about
diversity, she doesn't hold back on what that particular
milestone would mean to the industry.
"I would say that means a major door will have been kicked
down." she said.
"MUCH MORE AND FASTER"
The academy is not a reflection of society, but its
membership is meant to be a reflection of Hollywood's film
industry. Applicants are asked for their name, their work
history and sponsorship from two academy members.
"That is what is important for us. We don't break it down in any
other way," Boone Isaacs said, when asked if the academy would
publish information about the demographic make-up of its
What the public knows is what the Los Angeles Times published
two years ago after a lengthy investigation: estimated academy
membership was 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and the median
age was 62.
The report reignited a debate over diversity at the academy,
and Boone Isaacs said that perhaps the timing of the
conversation had "a little bit to do" with her election as
[to top of second column]
"Certainly, physically, I am an African-American
woman, so if you look at me it is not like you are seeing something
else. It is what it is," she said. "And I believe that this honor
that they have entrusted in me is because they feel for the moment I
was the best person for the job."What the public knows is what the
Los Angeles Times published two years ago after a lengthy
investigation: estimated academy membership was 94 percent white, 77
percent male, and the median age was 62.
The report reignited a debate over diversity at the academy, and
Boone Isaacs said that perhaps the timing of the conversation had "a
little bit to do" with her election as president.
"Certainly, physically, I am an African-American woman, so if you
look at me it is not like you are seeing something else. It is what
it is," she said. "And I believe that this honor that they have
entrusted in me is because they feel for the moment I was the best
person for the job."
She was elected to a one-year term as president and
can run again next summer.
Her view on her own success jibes with her belief that talent, given
the opportunity, will rise to the top, no matter what the color or
gender. But she also believes that the academy has a big role to
play in developing younger generations for the industry and
convincing women and minorities and people in other countries that
film is in the realm of their possibilities.
Last week's Scientific and Technical Awards, the academy showcase
for behind-the-scenes innovation and visual effects, were a reminder
of how much work needs to be done.
All 52 recipients of this year's awards were men and many of them
thanked their wives for putting up with their long work days.
"We are actively looking to students and in
particular young women and having them realize that maybe the geeky
world that they might think of in high school like science and math
isn't really geeky at all," Boone Isaacs said. "There is a lot of
opportunity in the entertainment business for a mind that works that
Boone Isaacs has broken through some barriers herself. She was the
first African-American woman to head a publicity department of a
Hollywood studio. At Paramount Pictures, she orchestrated campaigns
for Best Picture winners "Forrest Gump" and "Braveheart," and she
later became president of theatrical marketing at New Line Cinema.
She says African-Americans' representation in the Hollywood studios'
executive suites is "slowly increasing," drawing out the world
"slowly" to emphasize the pace.
"We would like to see that much more and faster," she said.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Leslie
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