Calls For A Boycott Of Oscar Viewing Fizzled

However, the issue of a lack of diversity in show biz remains. The next push will be to sensitize Hollywood executives, at a time some studios and networks have dialed back earlier efforts designed to attract more minorities

Graphic from the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP website

The decline in Oscar viewing this year had little to do with calls on the eve of the show for black viewer’s to boycott the telecast in the wake of a diversity controversy set off by the announcement of all white acting nominations for the second year in a row

Despite the claim by Rev. Al Sharpton the day after the show that the boycott of the Oscars sent “a message to Hollywood that it is time for a change,” the protests appear to have had minimal impact on the show’s ratings.

Maybe the show’s appeal to African Americans was host Chris Rock or the many minority presenters and performers - but black viewing was not down nearly as much as white viewing - or as much as some political activists behind the boycott effort have since claimed.

Out of 34.4 million who watched (on average) there were an estimated 3.22 million African American viewers on Feb. 28, a 2 percent decrease from the prior year when 3.29 watched, according to Nielsen. That compares to an eight percent drop in ratings in total viewers in 2016 and about a 4 percent drop in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic.

There was a much greater loss in white viewers who dropped to 27.1 million this year from 29.8 million last year and 34.7 million in 2014 when host Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie.

Not only did the protester’s message fail to impress Hollywood but sadly the brouhaha set off in February when a few black celebrities threatened an Oscar boycott also had little long-term effect and no staying power as a front burner issue for the media.

It seemed as soon as the show ended, in the wake of reforms by the movie Academy, the discussion of the industry’s institutional racism did a quick fade to black.

Even worse, despite a lot of puffy corporate flackery about diversity efforts in show biz, the efforts have actually regressed at many studios and networks. That is because programs that began just over 15 years ago, when there was an earlier protest over the lack of minorities in Hollywood, have been steadily downsized in recent years, according to Ron Hasson, President of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP, area director for the state of California and a national board member.

“Often when you talk to diversity people in companies their roles have lessened,” said Hasson, adding: “It may be very well companies no longer feel they have to pay as much attention as they did in the 1990s.”

Ron Hasson, President of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP

Hasson and the NAACP did not join with Sharpton and a handful of other African American political activists who advocated a boycott of the Oscar telecast. He said a better approach would be to speak directly with those in the industry who have the power to make movies and TV shows.

“The way we think we can move forward and help,” said Hasson, “is to recommend diversity training for executives. We feel it’s important they understand the business necessity for diversity.”

At the turn of the century, Hasson was among those active in efforts to get minorities into show biz as producers, directors, writers and performers, as well as crafts. At the time there was a rising awareness of the lack of diversity capped off by a highly publicized Congressional investigation and hearings which resulted in suggested “best practices,” but no rules.

“In 1999, “ an online history of the NAACP efforts recalled, “the networks signed a landmark memorandum of understanding with the NAACP and the Grand Coalition greatly advancing the cause of diversity in the entertainment industry and creating a milestone by which we can measure future progress in Hollywood.”

That may have made some difference in television where a greater number of network and cable shows feature minorities, and in some cases have minorities behind the screen as well.

At ABC, Shonda Rhimes has proven to not only be a prolific show runner but also has insisted that Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder and her other shows, as she has puts it, feature characters who reflect the diversity in the real world.

It has been an even more difficult challenge to achieve an industry that better reflects the changing population composition. In part that is because in movies, conventional wisdom is that black themed movies and movie stars don’t play outside the U.S. (unless they are part of a multi-racial action movie). That is huge when international sales represent an average of 60 percent of ticket sales.

“The total revenue last year was $38.9 billion,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for comScore. “Of that $11.1 billion was from North America and 28.8 billion was from overseas. So it is vitally important.”

There may also be an issue in the minds of those who choose the movies about the size of the African American audience. According to data from comScore, in 2015, black ticket buyers represented under 20 percent of the audience for the three biggest grossing movies– Jurassic World, Star Wars and the latest Avengers.

The race of characters portrayed in movies in 2014. From the USC Annenberg's MDSC Initative

In television, African American’s represented 9.4 percent of the total potential audience for the Oscars, up a tick from 9.3 percent in 2014 and 8.8 percent last year. It is up from 6.5 percent five years ago.

Hasson argued the “minority” audience is growing. He included Hispanic and Asian ticket buyers, who together with blacks now represent nearly half of everyone who saw Jurassic World.

That will be part of his pitch to the studio and network bosses.

“There needs to be an understanding,” said Hasson, “how to reach that minority in terms of movie product and whatnot in order to insure the needed diversity is there to have those individuals continue to appreciate and enjoy the products and still feel they are a part of it.”

Hasson said he is waiting for movie Academy leaders including Executive Director Dawn Hudson and President Cheryl Boone Issacs to set a time for a meeting – as soon as this week - to discuss the next steps in making the Academy and the industry more reflective of the U.S. demographic makeup.

The NAACP, said Hasson, sees a path that begins with another Academy meeting (there was one with Hudson when the controversy erupted in February), but then is followed by meetings with the studio, networks and key producers.

“This time we need to be far more active,” said Hasson. “It may not be resolved in a year. This may be a situation where we be begin once again to monitor integration, to negotiate, to create practices that will move us forward not only this year but in years to come.”

If the networks will not meet, or do not show they are serious about addressing diversity, Hasson said the NAACP and others will once again seek Congressional hearings to focus on the issue.

“We want to talk to the studios first,” said Hasson, “but I don’t think it would be a problem to talk to Congress with the various outcry’s coming from here.”

“There is still a lack in the number of movies green lit for and about people of color,” added Hasson. “Until there is some type of action we will be back next year and the year after that.”

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