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'Star Wars' and diversity could draw more Oscar viewers, film academy president says

Every year, the producers of the Oscar telecast have to please two distinct audiences: the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sitting inside the Dolby Theatre and the nearly 40 million regular moviegoers tuning into the show at home.

At February's Oscars, the producers may have a secret weapon: the Force. The year-end release of J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens" could help draw more viewers to the Oscar telecast, academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs suggested Tuesday in remarks at an event hosted by the nonprofit speakers forum Town Hall Los Angeles.

"How [academy members] view the talent on the screen is in many places different," Boone Isaacs said in response to an audience question about why nominated films don't better reflect the tastes of everyday moviegoers. "But this has been the year of the blockbuster ... and the big daddy of them all is coming: 'Star Wars.'"

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Boone Isaacs said that in hiring two new producers for the Oscar telecast, filmmaker Reginald Hudlin and TV producer David Hill, the academy had sought out a mix of movie history knowledge and live event experience. She said she hoped they would tackle the Oscar show's perennial problem of pacing and "move this puppy along."

Speaking to an audience of about 100 people from fields such as banking, law and higher education, Boone Isaacs, a film marketing professional who was just reelected to a third term as academy president, also fielded questions on the future Academy Museum, diversity in the film industry and her own professional path.

Of the museum, which is scheduled to open at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in 2017, Boone Isaacs said, "It'll be a boon." She pointed out that the Academy Museum joins the recently renovated Petersen Automotive Museum and the L.A. County Museum of Art in a revitalization of the Miracle Mile, then she looked down at the table beside her, clenched a fist as if to knock it for luck and said, "Is there any wood in this?"

When moderator Val Zavala, vice president of news and public affairs at KCET, asked about the controversy surrounding the homogeneity of this year's Oscar nominees, which inspired the Twitter hashtag "#OscarsSoWhite," Boone Isaacs stressed that the academy didn't have the power to greenlight films or hire directors or actors. She added that the academy had invited more diverse groups of members to join over the last three years.

"While we have nothing to do with hiring, we're encouraging our members to hire, mentor and promote talent," Boone Isaacs said. "What we can do is get our members thinking a little wider."

Boone Isaacs, the academy's first African American president, reflected on her own career trajectory, including an early stint as a Pan Am flight attendant and a defining teenage moment visiting her oldest brother, Ashley Boone, when he was working as a marketing executive for United Artists in the 1960s. "It was very 'Mad Men,'" she said.

She mentioned being passed over for promotions in her career. "I stuck it out and said, 'You're not taking me out of this.' Don't let other people steal your dreams. Just don't."

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