ASU: Arizona State University names Cheryl Boone Isaacs as Founding Director of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School

Boone Isaacs will be the director of the three-campus film school starting on Jan. 1, 2022. She will lead from the ASU California Center in Los Angeles as well as from Tempe and Mesa, home of the 118,000-square-foot and state-of-the-art film and immersive media center.

“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, making her the perfect person to build a school that can help disrupt both film education and the industries it serves.

Boone Isaacs is the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2013-2017. She was the first Black person and third woman elected to the post and made it her tireless 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 that she was drawn to ASU because of its emphasis on “representation, and the idea of inclusion, not exclusion.” In particular, she emphasizes the importance of helping students gain an understanding of the size of the industry and the many levels within it.

“What students 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.”

Boone Isaacs was introduced to film at a young age thanks to her older brother Ashley, who worked in the industry as a junior film publicist promoting movies to audiences overseas. One of those movies was 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” which starred Poitier in an Oscar-winning performance. Ashley Boone would go on to work for Poitier’s production company before landing at 20th Century Fox in 1972, where he became the president of distribution and marketing.

It was through her brother that Boone Isaacs first met Poitier, in the late ‘60s. “He was such a striking figure,” she recalls. “And he was very kind and sincere.” Their paths would cross again through Boone Isaacs’ work with the academy.

Earlier this year, ASU renamed its film school after the Hollywood icon and first Black man to win the Academy Award for best actor. 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. The school will soon add two locations besides its current home on the Tempe campus.

Boone Isaacs is currently an adjunct professor at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, in Orange, California. She previously served as a filmmaker-in-residence at Chapman.

Boone Isaacs is excited about building ASU’s film school with an eye to the future, with the goal of empowering visual storytellers across various platforms. Teaching and mentoring hold a special place for 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.”

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