Cheryl Boone Isaacs has been named founding director of the newly established Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State U. Boone Isaacs will be director of the three-campus film school starting Jan. 1. She will lead from the ASU California Center in Los Angeles as well as from Tempe and Mesa.
“Cheryl Boone Isaacs has built her extraordinary career championing — and exemplifying — two of the primary things the Sidney Poitier New American Film School stands for: inclusion and excellence,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.
“Boone Isaacs is one of the most respected leaders in Hollywood and she fully understands its operating system.” He added that her experience in the industry and in education makes her the perfect person for the job.
Boone Isaacs is a decades-long veteran of the film biz as a marketing and PR maven. She is now best known as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2013-17. She was the first Black person and third woman elected to the post and made it her mission to diversify Hollywood over the years. Boone Isaacs will continue her mission to lead change in the film industry as the new director of the film school.
Boone Isaacs said she was drawn to ASU because of its emphasis on “representation, and the idea of inclusion, not exclusion.” She emphasizes the importance of helping students understand the size of the industry and the many levels within it.
“What young folks usually know is actor, director, writer,” Boone Isaacs said. “It’s important to understand the industry and how many career possibilities there are inside of it — and then the support group that surrounds it. Depending on your attitude, your aptitude, your desire, the range is wide.”
She began working in the 1970s, at Columbia (among her films there: Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). She also served at Mel Simon Prods. and the Ladd Co. She was worldwide publicity director at Paramount through 1997, then moved to New Line, where she became president of theatrical marketing, the first Black woman to hold that position at any studio.
Boone Isaacs was mentored by older brother Ashley Boone, who started as a junior film publicist promoting movies to audiences overseas. One of those was 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” which starred Poitier in an Oscar-winning performance.
Ashley Boone worked for Poitier’s production company before landing in 1972 at 20th Century Fox, where he became the president of distribution and marketing, the first Black in such a high position at a major studio.
Earlier this year, ASU renamed its film school after Poitier. The move was part of a commitment to diversity in storytelling and storytellers. The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, with nearly 700 students, is one of five schools in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.
Boone Isaacs is currently an adjunct professor at Chapman U.’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, in Orange, Calif. She previously served as a filmmaker-in-residence at Chapman.
Teaching and mentoring are extremely important to Boone Isaacs, and she brings decades of well-earned practical advice to ASU.
“Sidney Poitier — the man, the icon, the legend — is my north star who exemplifies determination, passion, professionalism and excellence,” she said. “I am honored to be part of his legacy and to impart his ethos to future generations of storytellers.”