This past Wednesday evening, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was honored at CinemaCon as Pioneer of the Year! The ceremony took place at the 76th annual Will Rogers Motion Picture Foundation Dinner. Boone Isaacs is only the fourth woman and first African American ever awarded the top honor by the charitable organization.

Academy Governor Steven Spielberg, praised Isaacs, noting, “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 acceptance speech was full of gratitude and emotion, 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 worked on together such as Oscar winners Forrest Gump and Braveheart.

As a woman of color as well as the first African-American to hold the office of President of the Academy, diversity is very important to Isaacs and she made a point to highlight its importance in her speech saying, “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.”

Cheryl Boone Isaacs is surely a pioneer in this industry, not only in image, but in efforts and action, so this award is very much deserved! We offer our congratulations!

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Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

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