Cheryl Boone Isaacs awaits possible second term as academy president

Cheryl Boone Isaacs awaits possible second term as academy president
AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaac (Steve Granitz / WireImage)

When she was elected the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last summer, marketing consultant Cheryl Boone Isaacs represented a move toward diversity in the movie industry's most prominent organization.

Now, after a year at the helm, she has emerged as a steadying, even traditionalist leader in a period of great change at the academy, according to those who have worked with her.


On Tuesday night, the academy's board of governors is expected to vote on whether to renew Boone Isaacs' position for a second one-year term.

Well-liked for her doggedness in various roles since she joined the academy in 1987 and for her support of members in the below-the-line crafts, Boone Isaacs seems likely to be renewed as president, an increasingly demanding job that has been held by actors including Gregory Peck and Bette Davis and more recently by producers Hawk Koch and Tom Sherak.

The 6,000-member academy has often been driven by spotlight-loving, above-the-line talent, but Boone Isaacs is a quieter leader, having spent 22 years as a governor representing the public relations branch.

She has had to mediate the tensions between the actors, directors and executives who give the academy its star power and much of its money and the artisans who perform Hollywood's behind-the-scenes roles, a group with more representation in the last year, as new branches for casting directors and costume design have been added.

The former Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema publicity executive played a key role in selecting Ellen DeGeneres as host of this year's Oscar telecast — the most watched in a decade — and she was the face of the academy's controversial decision to rescind a nomination for original song in January.

She's also running the 51-member board at a time when the group is making key decisions about the $300-million Academy Museum, set to begin construction at the former May Co. building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue by the end of this year.

Boone Isaacs, 64, declined to speak to The Times on the eve of the meeting, and a spokeswoman for the academy said, "We don't comment on our board meetings, which are closed, confidential sessions."

As president, however, she has moved into a role as the institution's most prominent figure, appearing on television to deliver the Oscar nominations with Chris Hemsworth, and speaking on the stage at the Dolby Theatre during the Oscar telecast.

She also fielded the fallout when the academy made the unprecedented decision to disqualify the original song nomination for "Alone Yet Not Alone," from the faith-based film of the same name, in January after its composer, prominent music branch member Bruce Broughton, lobbied fellow branch members via email in violation of academy campaigning rules.

"There were conversations about, how did this happen? What was this?" Isaacs told The Times in February about the controversy. "We got together, we talked about it, came to a decision and stood by it. Still stand by it. But it was a tough time."

In person, Boone Isaacs is button-down and no-nonsense and chooses her words with care, a habit formed, some colleagues say, at Paramount in the 1980s and '90s, where she orchestrated the campaigns for best picture winners "Braveheart" and "Forrest Gump."

Boone Isaacs' conservative style appeals to many of the academy's longtime members but stands in contrast to academy chief executive Dawn Hudson, an independent film world figure who oversees the day-to-day operations of the group and has a more casual, chatty approach. Boone Isaacs has stepped into the spotlight with reluctance, working more comfortably behind the scenes with the myriad academy factions.

"I adore Cheryl," said Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a governor representing the costume designers branch who has known Boone Isaacs since her husband, director John Landis, made "Coming to America" for Paramount while Isaacs worked in publicity there. "We have a long and close relationship."

In 1997, at New Line, Boone Isaacs became the first African American woman to run a studio marketing department. At her own company, CBI Enterprises, she has consulted on marketing and publicity campaigns for "The Artist" and "The King's Speech." CBI is also a nickname of sorts — and how the security officers at the academy refer to her.

If she is reelected president Tuesday night, Boone Isaacs will be eligible to serve two additional one-year terms.