A recognition long sought by film casting directors finally arrived, surprising and delighting members of the casting community—and prompting speculation about what may come next.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that its Board of Governors had approved the creation of a branch for casting directors. The move has long been viewed as a crucial step toward a greater goal—the creation of an Academy Award for casting.
“I am thrilled beyond belief for my fellow casting directors and very grateful to the Academy for finally recognizing the contribution that casting directors make toward the filmmaking process,” Sharon Bialy of Bialy/Thomas Casting told Backstage. “Casting directors have been trying to get an Academy Award nomination in the future, and this is the first step.”
Bialy, also a member of the Casting Society of America’s national board of directors, then sang a portion of the R&B classic “Respect,” written and originally recorded by Otis Redding and popularized by the great Aretha Franklin. CSA President Richard Hicks declined to break into song, instead offering a more contemplative but no less appreciative reaction to the news.
“I’m moved by the Academy’s recognition of the casting director in the creative process,” Hicks told Backstage. “It’s a quietly beautiful thing today.”
Casting directors have been able to seek admission to AMPAS as at-large members for more than 30 years but until now have not had their own branch. Three members from each of the Academy’s now 17 branches sit on the organization’s influential Board of Governors.
“Casting directors play an essential role in the filmmaking process,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a written statement. “Their inclusion on our board will only broaden our perspective and help ensure that the Academy continues to accurately reflect the state of filmmaking today.”
The announcement came fewer than 24 hours after Boone Isaacs was announced as the Academy’s new—and first African-American—president. It also came just days before the HBO premiere of the documentary “Casting By,” which screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and was one of the most buzzed-about films at the fest. The documentary tells the story of the evolution of the casting director’s role in the modern movie industry—and how that role has been misunderstood, underappreciated, even disparaged. The film’s main narrative thread follows the career of legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, who, at the end of her life, was denied the recognition of an honorary Oscar, despite a campaign mounted on her behalf by Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, and other industry luminaries.
Kate Lacey, one of the film’s producers, worked for Dougherty and later became a casting executive at Disney.
“Clearly we felt casting was a critical enough collaboration to the filmmaking process to dedicate seven years of our lives to making a movie about it,” she told Backstage. “The fact that the Academy is now recognizing their contribution as well in this manner is truly uplifting and thrilling.”
Tom Donahue, the film’s director, shared Lacey’s enthusiasm.
“We couldn’t ask for more—other than the Oscar [category], of course,” Donahue told Backstage. “But this is the first step. It shows the Academy is making progress.”
Asked if he thought that the timing of the announcement, coming just before the premiere of “Casting By,” was a coincidence, Donahue laughed.
“I know it probably is not entirely coincidental,” he said.