#OscarsSoWhite Becoming More Than a P.R. Headache for Hollywood

By Marc H. Morial
President & CEO, National Urban League

I didn’t watch the Oscars on television this year. Apparently, a lot of people didn’t.

As the nation’s scrutiny focuses ever more sharply on racial exclusion in Hollywood, Sunday’s television broadcast of the Academy Awards suffered its lowest rating in eight years. The Academy needs to take this drop very seriously.

#OscarsSoWhite is quickly becoming more than just a public relations headache for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which rakes in a reported $70 million a year from the domestic and international television rights to the ceremony. Without eyeballs to sell to advertisers, the networks won’t be so quick to pony up such huge sums in the future. The loss of revenue represents a dire threat to the Academy’s very existence, much less its annual awards ceremony.

As we have repeatedly warned over the last two years, unless the Academy takes affirmative steps to address racial exclusion not only in its awards nominations, but in the motion picture industry as a whole, the Academy Awards will become irrelevant. So far, we haven’t seen a much effort. In a letter to Academy leaders earlier this year, we offered to help develop a comprehensive diversity plan but so far, they have not responded.

This year’s boycott of the Oscars broadcast was more than a symbolic gesture. African-Americans represent a disproportionately high share of box-office revenue, spending more than $1.1 billion a year on movie tickets. If Hollywood wants people of color to tune in – to its movies or to its awards broadcast – then Hollywood must tune in to the legitimate concerns of its consumers.