TIFF ’16: The Academy’s Cheryl Boone Isaacs talks diversity

During the Toronto International Film Festival, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president urged producers to cast a wider net when hiring creative talent and crew members.
September 13, 2016

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is urging producers to cast wider nets when hiring as part a plan to increase diversity, the organization’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, told an audience in Toronto this weekend.

Boone Isaacs was on hand Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to discuss diversity in the wake of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Since then, the Academy has invited 683 artists to its membership ranks, including 48 documentary producers, directors, cinematographers and editor. The invitations put particular focus on women and people of color.

The hashtag popped up last year, but gained momentum this year after all the nominees in this year’s acting categories were white.

“You do tend to not look further than (your) own space. We’re asking everybody to look further.” — Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Speaking to TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, Boone Isaacs reiterated the Academy’s plan to double the number of women and minority voters and boost inclusion by 50% by the year 2020.

“It’s a big goal,” she said. “But if you don’t set a big goal, what’s the the point?”

Though she did not delve into specifics of the plan, Boone Isaacs said the initiative has the support of the Academy’s board of governors and outlined conversations she has been having with producers about hiring practices.

When Bailey asked the former film marketer to respond to the oft-repeated argument that Hollywood is a meritocracy and producers hire the best, she countered that many industry players – particularly white men – continually hire the same people over again and fail to seek out new talent.

“You do tend to not look further than (your) own space. We’re asking everybody to look further,” she said, adding she is seeing a more conscious effort from studio execs to evaluate who gets hired and why. “If you’re not thinking outside of your bubble, how do you know that [a person] is the best?”

She lauded Ava DuVernay, Ryan Murphy, J.J. Abrams and Brad Pitt for hiring and promoting diverse talent.

Boone Isaacs also told Bailey that the latest round of membership invitations had an emphasis on international names and insisted American members are fine with casting a wide net because the bar for entry is a high one.

However, she sees Los Angeles as the center of the movie universe: “The heart of the motion picture business is Hollywood, California.”

When Bailey pointed out that China’s film business is growing, Boone Isaacs reiterated the statement, adding, “We’ll see.”

Diversity is a big topic at this year’s TIFF, with a number of high-profile (mostly narrative) films featuring black talent in front of and behind the camera.

In an interview with realscreen in July, Life, Animated director and newly appointed Academy board of governors member Roger Ross Williams said the organization has a long way to go in achieving its equity goals.

“We have to start from the bottom up, not from the top down,” the doc maker said. “We can’t expect Hollywood to change, the gatekeepers are the gatekeepers. We have to raise the next generation that will become the gatekeepers, the agents, the directors and the producers because we can’t sit around and wait around for Hollywood to change.”

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