Oscar & Diversity: Academy President Talks About How to Bring Change

At a Q&A luncheon Tuesday, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said the org hopes studio executives will expand their thinking in terms of diversity but stated, “The Academy has no power over Hollywood. We have nothing to do with hiring.”

She said many non-industry people believe the Academy controls decisions about greenlights, hiring and casting, but that’s in the hands of studios and agencies. “What we can do, however, is to get them to widen their normal stream of thought.” AMPAS is encouraging members to mentor and promote diverse workers within the industry — not hiring them because they’re a minority, but because they are good workers who just happen to be in a minority. She quoted recent Emmy winner Viola Davis as saying that the key is to get the same opportunities as everyone else.

The Q&A was for Town Hall Los Angeles, an ongoing series of meet-and-greets between newsmakers and L.A. business and community leaders. Moderating the session was Val Zavala, VP of news and public affairs at KCET, who cited a recent study showing that of 700 recent top-grossing films, only 11% had gender balance in its onscreen characters.

Boone Isaacs, who has been teaching for 12 years, pointed out that sometimes diversity problems start even before the entry level; despite the boom in college courses devoted to film and TV, “an issue for most film schools is lack of diversity.”

At the session, conducted at the City Club in downtown L.A., Boone Isaacs tried to dispel some misperceptions about the Academy by pointing out the breadth of its work; way beyond Oscars are its Margaret Herrick Library, the Student Academy Awards, fellowships and preservation programs, and many other initiatives.

Asked about the impact of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, slated to open in 2017, she said it will be good for the Miracle Mile, for the city as a whole and for the industry. “We are looking to immerse the visitor into the world of filmmaking, with all the work, technology and the glamour that it entails.” The challenge is to not make it seem like a “museum,” with artifacts from the past, but to make it about the present and the future, so that a museum-goer can say, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

Though she applauded the boom in exhibition and distribution around the world, Boone Isaacs said Hollywood films are special to people everywhere, and the goal is “to get everybody to make most of their movies back here.” She added, “We are at the forefront.”

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