Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was honored Wednesday night at CinemaCon as Pioneer of the Year at the 76th annual Will Rogers Motion Picture Foundation Dinner, a part of every CinemaCon convention. She became only the fourth woman and first African American ever awarded the top honor by the charitable organization, which raised $1.1 million in proceeds.
It was quite an impressive affair led off by a videotaped tribute from Steven Spielberg, an Academy Governor, who said, “Cheryl is one of only three women who have held this post (the others being Fay Kanin and Bette Davis), so Cheryl you have become a pioneer in your own right because you are the face and the voice of the Academy, and in these wildly unpredictable times you do it with such grace and such passion for movies that protects the Academy which has represented the gold standard for the arts and sciences of film for all of us.”
The evening was presided over by 20th Century Fox president of distribution Chris Aronson, who called Isaacs “an extraordinary woman who is so deserving of this honor. Her leadership, wisdom, tireless service and immense contributions to the entire film community are the epitome of why this award was established.” Actor David Oyelowo presented the award to her with heartfelt words in his introduction to the recipient.
Isaacs was particularly honored, naming several previous winners of the same award, and also mentioned her late brother who has been gone for 23 years but was such an influence. “He set a standard to which I aspire every day. Will Rogers once said, ‘A person only learns in two ways, one by reading and the other by association with smarter people.’ And I’ve been privileged to learn so much from your past honorees like Jeffrey Katzenberg, Frank Mancuso and Jim Gianopulos, and none more so than Sherry Lansing,” she said of the latter, with whom she worked for so long at Paramount. She mentioned many films they toiled on together like Oscar winners Forrest Gump and Braveheart.
“As Academy president I wanted to make sure our industry saw the value of diversity and inclusion. Yes, it is a personal thing for me as a woman, and as a woman of color,” she said. “After all, the heart of moviegoing is perspective, whose point of view is being represented, what do you see through the camera lens, who is behind the camera itself? We’re not growing if we’re not gaining perspective. We’re all stronger. Our art is more alive, our industry more innovative to fresh perspective, when we widen the lens.” Isaacs had many of her family as well as associates from her Paramount years in attendance.
She didn’t formally address any of the Academy’s issues including new, more stringent guidelines regarding the Academy’s long-term association with accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, which were put under the microscope when the Best Picture winner was wrongly announced by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, creating a debacle unprecedented in Academy history. The organization’s Board Of Governors decided the right course they wanted to take on Tuesday night at their monthly meeting.
I asked her about all of this at the pre-reception at Caesars Palace, but she would only say she agreed that these changes, put officially into place at that meeting, were necessary and would prevent anything embarrassingly similar happening in the future. Hopefully the board next moves to eliminate the arcane preferential balloting practice for the Best Picture category which is causing confusion among many voters.
Overall, it was quite a night at CinemaCon, and all for a good cause.