There might have been some fuzzy math in Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ Saturday morning conversation with Toronto festival artistic director Cameron Bailey. Asked by how much she planned to grow the number of women and diverse ethnic groups under the Academy’s much-discussed A2020 initiative, Boone Isaacs said she hoped to “increase inclusion by 50 percent.” Back in January, an academy statement said it would “commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members” by 2020—an increase of 100 percent.
Either way, it’s a target, not a quota, and Boone Isaacs made crystal clear what her goal is: More. “We’re asking everybody to look further right now in every single way,” she said, as Bailey, a strong advocate for diversity in the Toronto slate, probed for details of the academy’s inclusion push.
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At the Boone Isaacs “Moguls” series talk, there was no discussion of audience erosion, digital pipelines, technical revolution, Oscar show ratings or the academy museum. Instead, identity politics was Topic A, B and C, with a slight bow toward internationalism.
Bailey archly suggested that China, with a giant movie industry all its own, might be stealing Hollywood’s energy. “We’ll see, we’ll see,” said Boone Isaacs, a seasoned film marketer who still sees Los Angeles as the center of the movie world. “The heart and soul of the movie business is in Hollywood, Calif.,” she insisted, raising eyebrows and some titters in the Toronto crowd, which gathers from around the world.
In a perhaps telling aside, Boone Isaacs explained away criticism of the diversity push with an anecdote about her son, who, when young, got angry if she moved things around in his room. “He didn’t like change,” explained Boone Isaacs—though it seems possible that he actually didn’t mind change so much as having Mom impose it.
Another telling moment came when Bailey asked Boone Isaacs who her best allies had been in the diversity campaign. “Well, certainly the board,” she said, referring to the Academy’s board of governors. Unmentioned was the Academy’s paid chief executive, Dawn Hudson, who is equally committed to inclusion, but has had occasional moments of friction with Boone Isaacs.
Possibly the session’s most fascinating observation was embedded in an introduction by Kathleen Drum, the Toronto festival’s industry director. Drum noted that Bailey and those who share his views believe that films should “tell stories that reflect who the audience really are.” That can sound like a platitude. But in fact, it marks a powerful trend in contemporary film, which increasingly aims to mirror the audience—as Nate Parker’s ostensibly historical The Birth Of A Nation reflects contemporary racial views—rather than to take it where it’s never been, as did, perhaps, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Great movies, of course, always do some of both. But the pendulum has swung toward reflection and demographic inclusion.
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