by Matt Donnelly
Director Steven Spielberg lavished praise on departing film Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Wednesday, at the top of a CinemaCon presentation in her honor.
Of the 31 presidents in the Academy’s history, Spielberg said the office’s job is to “take the blame for a lot of things they’re not responsible for, and rarely get credit for the things that they are.”
Spielberg continued, “none may have faced what Cheryl has faced in her years.”
The director appeared in a pre-taped message in a ballroom at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, where the annual convention of movie exhibitors is held.
Over her reign, Isaacs has been saddled with everything from the national spotlight of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign to this year’s unprecedented Best Picture flub.
Spielberg was by no means the only film industry staple to join in celebrating Issacs: Sherry Lansing, Jeff Bridges, Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Terrence Howard, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, Regina King, Jennifer Hudson and Dev Patel paid tribute via video, just to name a few.
“I realized there was no better person than Cheryl to help push change,” actor David Oyelowo said in an on-stage tribute, recalling when he met the executive on the eve of the #OscarsSoWhat controversy. “It led the two of us having deep and spirited conversations.
“She helps expand the conversation, and helps others expand their point of view,” Oyelowo continued.
Isaacs used her turn at the podium to thank another woman pioneer in Hollywood — former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing, under whom Isaacs served as head of communications. She also underscored the importance of hope in show business.
“No matter what the cynics say, no matter how many people say things can’t be done, keep aiming high … in an industry built on big dreams, there’s no such thing as impossible,” she said.
The Will Rogers Pioneer Foundation assists people in the film business nationwide — from ticket-takers to janitorial staff to local distributors — in times of financial emergency.
“This award honors the true legacy of Will Rogers. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb,” Isaacs said. ‘That’s where the fruit is.”