Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs places the future of the film industry’s diversity on ”the hiring, the mentoring and the promoting” of underrepresented peoples. She emphasized this belief during a conversation with “Hidden Figures” screenwriter Allison Schroeder at the South by Southwest (SxSW) festival yesterday afternoon (March 13). 

Boone Isaacs reflected on the 1990s, when she worked as Paramount Pictures’ publicity director, and her feeling that Hollywood studios embraced executive diversity for a few years before backsliding in the next decade. “This time, we’ve got enough push, if you will, to keep this moving,” she said about contemporary calls for racial and gender equity in the industry. “I have seen this door open a few times in my career. We don’t want this door to close this time.” 

She also addressed the Academy’s “A2020“ initiative to double the Academy’s number of women and people of color by 2020. The diversity drive started in earnest last June, when the Academy inducted a class of 683 new members that was 41 percent people of color and 46 percent women. She said that this drive, despite the appearance of a quick response to #OscarsSoWhite criticism, is part of longer-term efforts to diversify the Academy. She also emphasized her trust in Academy members to advocate for diverse casting and hiring in their own projects to continue the momentum. “I look at [the Academy] as a big tree, and our members are the roots that go out and keep this conversation very much in public so that there’s a more diverse landscape,” she said.

Boone Isaacs and Schroeder’s conversation also touched on this year’s Oscars and the infamous #OscarFail, which the Academy president called “a bit of a shock,” as well as their career trajectories and the Academy’s upcoming Los Angeles museum.

Culture Reporter Sameer Rao is in Austin this week covering race- and people of color-focused panels and events at South by Southwest. Check back for more posts throughout the week.