Ask Cheryl Boone Isaacs about her groundbreaker status, and the conversation turns rather quickly to her brother.
As much pride as she takes in becoming the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, there is gratitude for those who guided her there — particularly Ashley Boone, who was a pioneering film marketing and distribution executive before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 1994 at age 55.
The siblings were the first to serve as Academy governors simultaneously.
“(He) was my hero, that I looked up to,” Boone Isaacs said Wednesday, her first full day on the job after the Academy Board of Governors elected her to its top post. “He taught me a lot about films — I enjoyed watching movies anyway, but because of that personal attachment, it grew into something even bigger, and I followed his path into the business. He represented a great historical period — he was ahead of his time — and I’m just thrilled to be able to follow in those footsteps as many others have followed.”
It isn’t lost on Boone Isaacs that she could have the same impact on the next generation of the film industry, both through the milestone of her election and through the programs that she can advocate for.
“It’s a new day, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s a big day, and it’s significant in many, many ways — inspirational I hope for the current generation and the next generation with the proliferation of film schools and young of all (ethnicities) wishing to have a career in this business. I’m hoping it will be inspirational for them.
“I think the industry has been moving forward in this area. We could quicken the step a bit with hiring and more importantly, the promotion of quality women and minorities into positions of power. There’s always room for improvement in those areas.”
Of course, Boone Isaacs’ immediate focus will be fulfilling the faith of the Academy. She is certainly well-prepared, having spent more than two decades in service of the organization and holding every other board officer position, as well as producing last year’s Governors Awards.
With all that investment, it’s not surprising that the longtime marketing and publicity executive described her election as “very emotional.”
“I’m so deeply honored and grateful for the trust that the Board of Governors has given to me,” she said. “That’s the essence of it, that this body of professionals feels that I would be a good choice to lead the organization into the future — that’s big, right? I’m still on a high, as you can imagine.”
Boone Isaacs said her three top priorities as president (during the first of what could be as many as four consecutive yearlong terms if, as past practice has held, she is re-elected each July) are the Oscars, Academy member engagement and the developing Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, scheduled to open in 2017.
Not surprisingly, Boone Isaacs had few specifics to offer regarding next year’s Oscars, saying that she will soon sit down with returning exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
“I’m looking forward to hearing their ideas and what they’ve been doing,” she said.
Similarly, any details on potential changes to the Oscar categories — music, documentary and foreign-language seem to be tweaked annually — were topics for another day, though Isaacs said that although the Academy Board approved the addition of a branch dedicated to casting directors, an awards category for them at the Oscars was not currently being discussed.
Boone Isaacs could afford to be more expansive about what the Oscars mean to her.
“The excitement of the day cannot be matched,” she said, “It’s very big. Getting all dressed up, even after all these years seeing celebrities as people right next to you — that thrill will never go away. I have been so privileged to be able to attend — and maybe I’ll get to be on this year.”
Boone Isaacs said that the Academy has advanced in the area of member engagement, but that “there’s still more for us to do.” She also placed great importance on the museum project, saying that she would be very involved in its progress alongside CEO Dawn Hudson, COO Ric Robertson and the Academy staff.
“It’s just going to be a tremendous, tremendous opportunity,” Boone Isaacs said, “We’ll be able to showcase our rich treasures and our archives. It’s going to be a boon, if you will, to our industry and our city, state and the country. … There’s a lot to our story, the Academy story, and we’re going to be able to tell that story 365 days a year to a worldwide audience.”