Cheryl Boone Isaacs moves from Springfield to Oscars to run Sidney Poitier’s film school

Cheryl Boone Isaacs is used to being a “first”.

A graduate of Springfield Classical High School, she was the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, guiding it not only through the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but also the successful campaign to build an academy museum. . Prior to that, Boone Isaacs was the first black woman to head the marketing department of a Hollywood studio.

More recently, Boone Isaacs was named founding director of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State University. In selecting Boone Isaacs, the college noted that she “has built her extraordinary career championing – and exemplifying – two of the core things the Sidney Poitier New American Film School stands for: inclusion and excellence.”

A month into the role, the Springfield native said she was excited for the opportunity to educate and introduce a new generation to the ever-changing world of visual storytelling.

“This film school understands that people mature at different levels,” she told the Republican in a recent interview. “You can have students – for whatever reason – who didn’t think about going to film school, thinking that film school was for an elite group; or parents who were a bit unsettled and worried that after spending all that money on an education, their child wouldn’t be able to have a career and make money — but ASU is very much about that on every level.

With 45 years of experience in Hollywood, Boone Isaacs is well aware that some schools haven’t fully prepared students for a career.

“It’s not their fault, it’s just how far the entertainment industry has grown and how it will continue to grow,” Boone Isaacs said. “Technology has made many skills and professions broader. There are many more opportunities. »

She added, “The idea of ​​storytelling can manifest in so many different places and spaces. We’re going to build a curriculum that will allow students to understand this industry – not just theater, not just broadcast, streaming, cable. … All. We want to teach our students all possible opportunities.

Boone Isaacs was recruited by Arizona State University, and although initially intrigued by the Poitier name, she said she found a lot about the university that shared her own ethos.

“I liked everything I heard,” recalls Boone Isaacs of his first encounter with university leaders. “There is a major push here for more diverse enrollment, which was much needed for film schools. … He was not as open as he should be.

The Arizona film school is named after Poitier, the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar and a noted human rights advocate. Poitier died Jan. 6, less than a year after the university announced it would name its new film school after him.

Boone Isaacs first met Poitiers through his brother, the late Ashley Boone Jr., who once worked at the Poitiers production company. Years later, Poitier supported Boone Isaacs when she was elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“He always represented such excellence in his craft, as well as his involvement in the community – both the industry and the black community,” she recalls. “He was such a special human being.”

Cheryl Boone Isaacs with actor Sidney Poitier at a 2013 YWCA of Greater Los Angeles awards ceremony. The Oscar-winning actor died Jan. 6, 2022. (Courtesy Cheryl Boone Isaacs)

The film school that bears the name of Poitiers will welcome around 700 students this year.

Arizona State University’s Film and Media Production Program was established in 2005. The program quickly grew to over 600 students within a decade, becoming one of the fastest growing majors in college. university.

Fueled by the creation of the Film Spark industry accelerator program in Los Angeles and a partnership with Arizona’s Sun Studios production facility, the Sidney Poitier New American Film School was announced as part of the Institute Herberger for Design and the Arts from the university on January 25. 2021.

The film program will take up residence at the Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center in Mesa, Arizona, which opens next month.

Its graduates will enter a changing industry.

“There are much better job opportunities than 10 years ago or even five years ago – but what is more important from my point of view is greater diversity at all levels in the realms of power, to determine what movies are made, what strategies should be taken (and) more in leadership,” Boone Isaacs said. “I feel he still has a long way to go.”

Boone Isaacs strongly believes that visual storytelling has the power to bring people together.

“All of these wonderful human stories on all levels of all bodies that can be shared with other people. I think it can help break down the barriers that existed whether or not people realized they existed,” said she said, “At the end of the day, we are all people and for each of us there is a story to tell.”

Boone Isaacs’ own story began on Alden Street in Springfield, where she grew up before later moving with her family to the Sixteen Acres neighborhood.

After graduating from classical high school in 1967, the youngest of four siblings enrolled at Whittier College in California, where she earned a degree in political science.

She shared a love of filmmaking with her older brother, Ashley, who was one of the main film marketing and distribution executives associated with hits such as ‘Sounder’, ‘Lilies of the Field’ and ‘Star Wars’. .

Boone Isaacs arrived in Los Angeles unemployed and went door to door looking for work.

She found him as a publicist at Columbia Pictures, assigned to Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi film “Encounters of the Third Kind.” She later moved on to Melvin Simon Productions and then The Ladd Co.

At Paramount Pictures, she worked her way up to executive vice president and orchestrated ad campaigns for best picture winners “Forrest Gump” and “Braveheart.”

She worked on such hits as ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shaged Me’, ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Boogie Nights’ as theatrical marketing president for New Line Cinema in the late 1990s.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Stanley Isaacs

Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her husband, producer Stanley Isaacs, arrive at the Oscars in Los Angeles in 2017. The couple have an adult son, who lives in Boston. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP File Photo)

Boone Isaacs also found time to pass on his experience, teaching classes at Chapman University, Columbia College Chicago, and the University of Southern California. She received the Pioneer of the Year Award from the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and the Rosa Parks Humanitarian Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

As the head of her own CBI Enterprises Inc., she advised on Oscar-winning films such as “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.”

Boone Isaacs has served on the academy’s board for more than two decades and was elected in 2013 for the first of four consecutive terms as academy president.

In early 2016, the Oscars came under fire on social media and in the mainstream press after all 20 Oscar nominations in the acting categories went to white performers for the second year in a row.

Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governors acted quickly and approved an ambitious membership initiative known as A2020. Her goal was to double the number of women and ethnically underrepresented members in four years.

Director Spike Lee, who has criticized the academy in the past, credited Boone Isaacs with changing the direction of the organization.

The outspoken black director told the trade newspaper Variety that Boone Isaacs “came with a mission, a plan to diversify the Academy and bring it into the 21st century. And I don’t think it’s a secret that she told the Academy that was the direction she wanted to go.

On February 9, 2020, South Korean comedy “Parasite” rewrote Oscar history by becoming the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.

While pleased with the progress made in recent years, Boone Isaacs doesn’t think the entertainment industry should be complacent.

“I think it’s gotten a lot better, though, you don’t sit down and say, ‘OK, we’re fine,'” she said. “Where there is excellence, let there be excellence, let there be no barriers. Where there are job opportunities, let’s make sure everyone is aware so that anyone who wishes to enter this company has the possibility of being able to have a job.

“It’s a tough industry and you have to be at the top of your game to be able to pursue a career.”

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