Yesterday afternoon, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs made her first public appearance since the Oscars, appearing at the SXSW Festival for a conversation moderated by Allison Schroeder, who was an Oscar nominee for her adapted screenplay for Hidden Figures. Throughout the conversation, Isaacs spoke in depth about her own experience in the film industry and how it affected her goals as a longtime member of the Academy, the actionable steps that were taken towards increasing diversity among Academy members, and she also revisited the historic mistake that took place on Oscars night regarding Best Picture.
“The last years with the Academy have been very…interesting, to say the least,” Isaacs said. “It really motivated us in a way that we were already motivated, certainly, a year ago. We’d already been very much involved in the organization’s evolution, if you will.”
She mentioned changes that were put in place in terms of the Academy’s membership, including a motion to give members non-voting emeritus status if they’ve been inactive in the film industry for an extended period of time—a move that angered many Academy members, but others felt was crucial to keep the organization relevant.
Isaacs specifically mentioned the A2020 Diversity Initiative, a five-year effort to scrutinize practices within the Academy and make an aggressive effort to improve diversity by bringing new voices into the organization, specifically in terms of age, gender, race, and national origin.
For Isaacs, beyond diversifying the Academy membership, the solution is “hiring, mentoring and promoting.”
“I have seen this door open a few times in my career,” said Isaacs. She recalled an era in the late 80s and early 90s when women were in power at Paramount, holding positions including the head of television and theatrical divisions. “I thought, ‘Oh good, here we go.’ It didn’t quite stay there.”
“This time though I think we have enough push across all disciplines to keep this going,” said Isaacs. “The door must stay open.”
Of course, the road is rocky. “There have been many times in my career I felt I was mistreated,” recalled Isaacs. Her solution: Walk around the studio lot to cool off. “What was important was staying in the game, not that someone upset me so much that I would quit.”
She did claim, however, that pushes like this were already in the works before #OscarsSoWhite dominated two years of Academy Awards conversation.
“It was a lot of work for us, but work that we were already committed to doing and wanting to do, which is why we were able to, it appeared to the outside to act quickly, but it wasn’t really,” she said. “We just became more vocal about it outwardly about the process.”
Unsurprisingly, then, in recounting the shock of 2017’s Oscar night, she chose to focus on the fruits of that labor—the diverse slate of nominees and the otherwise positively reviewed telecast—instead of the repercussions of the one moment that was out of her control.
That big moment, she said, shouldn’t be remembered for its mistake, either.
“What I thought was so important was how in a matter of minutes you saw a humanity and a respect and a graciousness from the La La Land filmmakers and the Moonlight filmmakers in a way that I thought was very special and very different and showed a Hollywood that we know, that for all of our challenges in this very complicated business there is a lot of that,” she said. “It all came together on a beautiful note and a beautiful ending.”