Saturday, January 30, 2016


The ACADEMY Of MOTION PICTURES ARTS And SCIENCES President CHERYL BOONE ISAACS and Chief Executive Officer DAWN HUDSON speak with THR/BILLBOARD Executive JANICE MIN on the TWO CONSECUTIVE YEARS of #OSCARSSOWHITE, Diversity within the Academy and Academy Voting, and their new A2020 INITIATIVE as the Cover Story for the new issue of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER!!!

Here are some interview interludes:

Let's go back to the night before the nominations are announced. Pricewaterhouse comes here with the results, you learn who is getting nominated. How did you feel?
DAWN HUDSON It's a very dramatic process because, as you alluded to, we're in this building, we're in lockdown in this building, with security, the Internet is turned off, your cellphones are turned in and PricewaterhouseCoopers comes with the nominations that night so you can prepare for the announcements the next morning. And we get the nominations, we read them, and we think, "Wow, OK. Here's the hand we were dealt this year, and there are great nominees in there." It wasn't as inclusive as we hoped, it wasn't as inclusive as we hoped for the second year. The sequel is always bigger, almost always can be bigger than the original. And we knew we were going to have to speak to this issue. It was a long night.
Did you know it would be this big of a story?
CHERYL BOONE ISAACS I thought it was going to be pretty big. I'm not sure [I realized] this big, but it's like the success of a motion picture. You know you've got a hit, but you don't know that it's actually going to be $500 million, you know?
HUDSON It's a conversation that everyone is having anyway. It's happening in corporate America, it's hap­pening in our police departments, it's happening with our politicians. And films are such an important part of our culture and the connective tissue of our culture. So all of those conversations now can come together around the Academy Award nominations.
Did you feel like you had to stem the conversation? That you had to cut it off before the Oscars broadcast?
BOONE ISAACS I would say more importantly that we could not be silent. And we had no reason to be silent. It isn't a smart thing just to sit back and just sort of let the conver­sation get out of hand when it's about you. At some point, you need to speak up.
What reactions have you gotten since the announcement of the new rules?
BOONE ISAACS They've been pretty positive — some people I haven't heard from before are saying, "Bravo, this is a great step forward, we're proud of our Academy, we're proud of our board."
HUDSON And a lot of the same people who were writing before, like, "What the heck is going on over there?" They now wrote emails of support and made phone calls of support.
Is what you've announced part of the A2020 initiative you've talked about? Some people are saying this was reactive, that you bowed to political correctness.
BOONE ISAACS This has been an initiative of the Academy for about three or four years of more inclusion in all aspects of what we do. And we have brought in more diverse members. Certainly last year the biggest [group of] invitees that we've ever had and the most diverse we have ever had. So this has been something that has been the heart of this organization, including the board, for a number of years. Last year, I announced at the Governors Awards this initiative of A2020, which was actually naming the activity that we have been doing. And that is to reach a better goal of inclusion by 2020. So this was already in process and led by Phil Robinson — we have a group of people who have been working already on ways of looking at what we do and how to increase our membership.
And the discussion was in person. Everybody came together in person?
BOONE ISAACS Oh yes. I believe strongly: Get everybody in a room and have a discussion. You know, we were probably going to announce these measures in another month or two, so it wasn't like it was way down the road by any means. But this gave us an opportunity to make it more public and let everybody know it's not that we're just listening, we listened awhile ago and we've been at this for a while.
HUDSON I want to address what you said about political correctness, which makes me a little crazy. The Academy is tradition-bound, it is rule-bound, it is not trying to be politically correct, never has been. We are an elite institution. That elite institution is part of who we are, and that definition won't change. We are the best of the best in the film industry. We don't feel that we have looked far and wide enough for the best of the best. It's not about political correctness, it's about building the best team, the best institution, the best artists. Because unless you have the best artists as members, unless you have the best artists voting on the Academy Awards, you don't have a real reflection of the best of our film culture. We're not talking about [just these] nominations. The nominations we can't control.
You've done a great job of diversifying membership in the past few years. You've invited Lena Dunham, Justin Lin, people who haven't won an Oscar — you're willing to take that criticism?
BOONE ISAACS They don't have to be in what would be considered an Oscar-worthy film. It's about talent. It's about their voices. And their voices are loud and heard, and they have a following, therefore they're relevant and need to be part of the conversation. So that's why they are included in our membership ranks.
Diversity is a big initiative at Disney, the parent of ABC, which airs the Oscars. What seat do they have at the table in this discussion?
BOONE ISAACS A number of Disney executives and filmmakers are members of our organization, for one. And they are our partners with regard to our telecast. We have a tremendously great relationship with Bob Iger and [Disney-ABC TV Group president] Ben Sherwood and [ABC Entertainment Group president] Paul Lee and the entire staff and their marketing staff. We've got a terrific relationship all year long because these are good, smart people.
ho do you think is doing a good job in Hollywood right now in terms of diversity?
BOONE ISAACS I think the studios actually shouldn't be crucified as much as they have been. You talk about Star Wars, right? The biggest franchise ever, and the two leads are a black actor and a female and two new, young actors that the public didn't know at all. That's the chance that they took because they know it's right and it was right for their film. And it all worked.
HUDSON It's exciting to see the release that both Creed and Straight Outta Comptongot this year and how well they did in the marketplace. And it's back to what you said Reggie Hudlin's piece was about: It doesn't make good economic sense. You shoot yourself in the foot not to release films like that. I'm sure this will have a domino effect. They were so successful and so embraced by a wide audience. That was Warner Bros., MGM and Universal. So you will have, I think, more and more.
Does it make you laugh when, let's say, Empire is a huge hit on TV and then all the networks want an African-American cast for a soap opera set in the music world? Is that progress?
HUDSON Sure. (Laughter.)
BOONE ISAACS It's been that way as long as I can remember, you know? Before the first Star Wars, it was like, nobody's interested in that genre, it's not gonna happen. And immediately after, you see a succession. If a comedy comes into the marketplace and it's hugely successful, then there are a number of comedies right after. That's kind of normal, and we are happy about that and certainly we are really happy about Cookie and her empire. (Laughter.) And maybe that means down the hall in the film division, someone will say: "You know what? This is a good storyline. Why aren't we doing that storyline for the masses, for the big screen?"


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