When the legendary Quincy Jones took the stage on Tuesday night, he immediately launched into a story. It was about hanging out one day with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Yao Ming. He said he’d grabbed a chair and stood on it so that he was able to look down on the three NBA big men — and instructed a photographer not to shoot his feet. The crowd laughed.
But this night wasn’t actually about sports. Jones was one of many celebrities and true icons to pay tribute to Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who was presented with the inaugural Legacy Award at ICON MANN’s sixth annual pre-Oscar dinner. The dinner was the conclusion of a day-long takeover that also included daytime panels at the SAG/AFTRA headquarters, like an intimate conversation with Boone Isaacs and director and producer Reginald Hudlin and a Black Panther panel that was moderated by ICON MANN founder Tamara Houston.
Jones had just been introduced by Kobe Bryant, who told the dinner guests at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel — Halle Berry, Nia Long and Shannon Sharpe among them — that he’d cold-called Jones when he was 18 years old to ask for advice. “I asked the most random questions,” Bryant said before stopping to laugh at the memory. “I said, ‘How do you do what you do?’ And he laughed. And he proceeded to break down his process. It’s important … to understand the great minds that came before you, and how you do what you do in hopes that we can create something … in our own disciplines and industries to future our own craft.”
Bryant and Jones were among a long line of famous folks and industry influencers who lauded Boone Isaacs and her contributions to film, as well as her work to diversify the voting body of the Academy, in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, which started in 2015 after April Reign created the hashtag. The dinner was hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, and before Boone Isaacs took the stage, a parade of people paid tribute to her — some were creative, like rapper and actor Common, who performed a few verses about the power of black women. Others, like Berry, were emotional.
“I’m so proud to be your friend. I’m so proud of everything you’ve done. I’m so proud to be a black woman when black women like you are leading organizations like the Academy,” Berry said to Boone Isaacs. “All the work that you did while you were there has changed the way the Academy runs, and nobody takes that away. I was saddened when I got the news that you weren’t running for re-election, I was, because it meant so much as a black woman that you were there. I felt safer. I felt better about it.”
By the time Boone Isaacs took the stage, she used sports as an analogy, citing the days when there were Olympic games with no black swimmers, when there were no golf champions and when tennis had no diversity. It wasn’t until people of color were given opportunities that progression happened in those sports. There’s still more work to be done, she was careful to note, but she sure was happy that she was no longer the lone person in a space. The organization also announced a special scholarship named for Boone Isaacs and her late brother, Ashley Boone Jr., who was a groundbreaking motion picture marketing and distribution executive for many years in Hollywood.