After an Oscar season in which the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was blasted for a lack of diversity in their nominations, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs sounded ecstatic on the phone today about the wide range and true diversity represented in the list of 322 new members invited to join the exclusive club this year. When we spoke a little while ago she sounded like she was taking a victory lap. With final approval of the Museum as well, she’s having as good a week as that other President in the White House. There has been much criticism in the past about the Academy membership being largely male, older and white. That has been changing in increments and has sped up with the arrival a few years ago of CEO Dawn Hudson, and then the election two years ago of Boone Isaacs, only the third woman and first African American to lead the organization.
Unsurprisingly with that profile she was expected to make diversity one of her major goals, and she told me she is thrilled that the efforts she and Hudson as well as others at the Academy have made are beginning to pay off in visible ways. Just peruse the list I posted earlier today and you will see names that do seemingly represent what America and the world really look like today. Of course the main goal of the Academy is to bring in qualified members (they have well over 6000) from all walks of the industry and the move to diversity shouldn’t be confused with any kind of what might have been called a “quota system” (limited numbers) they once had in bringing in new members. It’s a different time now and the Academy, particularly after a luck-of-the-draw season with 20 white acting nominees, wants to move forward. For Boone Isaacs it has been a concerted effort. “It is. And it is really gratifying to see this change taking place, especially to represent the extraordinary breadth of our industry,” she said while pointing out that even though they are able to invite most of their nominees to become members, it has gone way beyond that now. “The end of our quota system has allowed us to look beyond the nominees and recognize a more diverse group. That includes young and new talent, as well as some talent that has not gotten the recognition in the past and we want to recognize their contributions. It is a global industry now and it is only going to grow. It is important for us to stay on top of this growth and have inclusion, and to recognize all the brilliant talent that there is, both inside this country as well as outside,” she said.
Boone Isaacs said she is particularly proud that all of the branches of the Academy have committed to this goal of normalization of including a more diverse membership. “We keep taking steps forward, we keep moving forward. It’s not over by any means. This is part of the initiative and it will keep going. The branches have really stepped up and our members are really ambassadors to the industry,” she said, adding she isn’t sure why it took so long for some to become members, such as composer Dave Grusin who was invited today but actually won an Oscar for The Milagro Beanfield War 26 years ago. I remember seeing Christopher Plummer’s name finally come up on the membership roster in 2008 exactly a half century after his film debut. He told me he just never really got around to joining. Two years after he did he wound up winning an Oscar at age 82. Go figure. “I don’t know the reasons why some people haven’t been members, but what else is good news is it seems many people wish to be members. That is a very good thing for us. They feel they can be part of the conversation and that’s important to us,” Boone Isaacs said.
I asked her if an Oscar nomination means you automatically get invited to join. She said what is automatic is only that they are “considered.” Each branch has its own criteria and follows its own path in determining the qualities that make a member. As for her own future with the Academy her re-election for President comes up August 4th and it’s highly likely there won’t be any opposition. She will be running for her third consecutive term (Presidents can have up to four one-year terms). A third of the Board is also running for new three year-terms and that list of candidates also seems to be fairly diverse, particularly in the numbers of women running. The most interesting race is in the executive branch which pits Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos vying to return to the Board, his new Vice-Chair Stacey Snider, incumbent Dick Cook and producer Lucy Fisher running against each other. Boone Isaacs is proud of what she has accomplished so far including the diversity initiative as well as the ongoing efforts to build the new Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures which just got official approval this week from the Los Angeles City Council. “Now we are really up and running. We get to have our groundbreaking in early Fall, we get to start construction and we are still set to open the latter part of 2017, so this train in moving,” she said.
When I asked how the search for new Oscar show producers is going (Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have bowed out as Deadline first reported) she joked, “it’s going. You’ll know by February.” But about the search she seriously added, “It’s all fascinating. It’s really fun, actually. And as you well know this is the 26th day of June and what a banner year our industry is having. It’s all good.”