Friday, May 12, 2017

Cheryl Boone Isaacs to Step Down From Academy President

Cheryl Boone Isaacs
It has come as a surprise that current Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has officially announced that she will be stepping down following the completion of this term. She has been the voice of The Academy for the past four years and has steered the prestigious group into directions that address increasing diversity and making the Oscars more aware of talents not found within the studio system. While her successor has not been announced, it feels like an important time to remember what was special about Isaacs' time as President, and what can possibly be expected in years to come.

It is likely that Oscar-winning movies are more recognizable than the Academy Presidents who put rules into place for them. It's a bit of a thankless job, but one that could produce celebration or great outcry. To some extent, Isaacs managed to receive both during her past four years. There were two years in particular where she had to deal with a public backlash for the "Oscars So White" movement where only white actors received nominations in 2015 and 2016. Many have accused her of not being as attentive to change as she should be. No matter where you fall on this issue, the one thing that she did encourage was open conversation about the problem.

While it's true that the diversity issue extends beyond her control, she did manage to make a considerable change to 2017's Oscar winners. Moonlight became the first Best Picture winner with an entirely black cast. It was also a year where every acting category had a couple non-white nominations. It helped that this was also part of her personal initiative to have a more diverse group of Academy members, which in 2016 met its highest inductees that were also among the most diverse. It also, maybe inadvertently, encouraged studios to update their social norms when it came to what films were released. 

It wasn't an overnight story for Isaacs. It's likely that the work she did will only continue to be recognized when her successor takes over. She was the first black president in The Academy's history. She also is only the third woman to hold the title. She was on the ruling body for 24 years. In a statement that she gave, she claimed that: 
“It’s been my greatest honor serving on the academy’s board of governors in numerous capacities for more than two decades, and it will be a privilege to provide the opportunity for new voices to have a seat at the table."
It's the type of welcoming that Isaacs tried to encourage. She even moved The Academy away from traditional live presentation of nominees to a video package in 2017. She was willing to try anything for the sake of progressing The Academy's image. There's no telling what will happen next. What is known is that voting opens May 15, and the pool of potential replacements is large. Whoever ends up taking her place has some big shoes to fill, as her work has done plenty to improve the image of The Academy in recent years.

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