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Academy’s First Black President Cheryl Boone Isaacs: ‘This Was Major, and I Know It’

Newly elected president Cheryl Boone Isaacs says she supports the super-sizing of the Academy — but doesn't envision new Oscar categories


Cheryl Boone Isaacs knows that she will be judged in the long run more on the work she does than the barriers she's broken.

But at the same time, she told TheWrap on Wednesday, she recognizes that her election – which made her the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and only the third woman – was a significant moment for the Academy.

“It’s major,” she said. “I know that, and you know that. To be given this trust is quite a big deal. It’s an honor, it's a privilege, and I hope it’s inspirational for people the way others have been an inspiration for me.”

Also read: Cheryl Boone Isaacs Elected Academy's First African-American President

Isaacs is assuming the presidency at a time when the Academy is in a growing mode: Over the last year, the governors have taken the limits off the number of new members AMPAS admits every year, inviting nearly 300 people to join the organization that typically invites fewer than 200.

They have opened up voting in every category to all members, eliminating documentary and foreign-language rules that restricted eligibility. They have added a Casting Directors Branch after years of pressure. And they have expanded the board itself from 43 members to 48, and will now add three more in the fall when the new branch holds a special election.

But while Isaacs says she embraces the new, super-sized Academy, she doesn’t see any significant changes coming in the Oscars themselves – for instance, the creation of a casting award.

“I absolutely support [the new, larger Academy],” she said. “It’s much more inclusive. It’s wonderful. But I don’t see a new category happening.

Also read: New AMPAS President Hawk Koch Exits as PGA Co-President

“What I see is that we have added a new branch, and we’re really excited about that because of the importance of the casting directors to the making of motion pictures.”

Isaacs follows a single-term president, Hawk Koch, who pushed for a number of changes and made the post his full-time job. Asked if she’d follow suit, she was noncommittal.

“I’m going to be here quite a bit,” said Isaacs, who has previously served as AMPAS' first vice president, secretary and treasurer. “I’ll probably be here every day, as I dive into all the different aspects. It’s going to take whatever time it takes, and I’m here for it.”

AMPAS(As for her outside marketing work at CBI Enterprises, she admits that she definitely can’t do any public relations work on behalf of Oscar contenders, which she has done in the past. “No no no,” she said quickly.)

Also read: New Academy President Hawk Koch: My Oscars Wish List

Isaacs said her priorities are the next Oscar show (she supports the rehiring of producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and hopes to meet with them on her first day in office), membership engagement and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which she said is still on track for an opening in 2017.

And she declines to compare her level of activity to her predecessors – or even to characterize Koch as an especially active president.

“I would say that every president has been active, throughout the history of the organization,” she said. “But the world today is different, and the Academy, like every other organization in our industry, has evolved and gotten broader. There’s a lot of really good work ahead of us.”

She started immediately, she added, returning to the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters the morning after she’d been there to see the governors elect her president.

“I didn't get a lot of sleep,” she said, laughing. “The adrenaline was flowing, and that’s always hard to come down from that to fall asleep. But I had about four or five hours.

“I slept well, but when I woke up the the adrenaline was definitely still there. So I couldn’t wait to get back in and start conversations with people.”