Dubbed by many as #OscarsSoWhite, this year’s awards have been dwelling in PR hell from the moment the nominees were announced in January.
That hashtag is not new. Nor are the complaints that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is run like an antiquated club of predominantly white members, some of whom haven’t been active in the industry since the debut of VistaVision. The argument is that these older, voting members of the Academy don’t see many of the films they’re voting on and aren’t familiar with a newer crop of talented minority actors and directors.
In full crisis management mode, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is black, announced efforts to increase membership of women and minorities and to address member voting status.
Television ratings for the Academy Awards ceremony has been in steady decline in recent years. Last year, under the stewardship of Neil Patrick Harris, the telecast drew its lowest ratings in six years.
Months before the all-white line-up of nominees was revealed, Chris Rock was selected as host of the 2016 Oscars. By choosing Rock, the Academy was hoping to inject the ceremony with some comedic edge that would draw a younger and more diverse audience. (Which sounds disturbingly like your parents saying they want to “chill a while with your groovy friends.”) Once the nominees were announced, however, the Academy had yet another PR crisis on its hands: demands from many in Hollywood that Rock boycott the Oscars. (He declined.)
Even before the #OscarsSoWhite controversy erupted (this time), we have to wonder why Rock agreed to host in the first place. He hosted once before in 2005, to an audience that was three percent lower than the previous year. And his reviews were mixed at best. But he gave the Academy what it wanted—piercing humor with a bite that spared no one. While people may tune in just to see if there’s a re-match with Jude Law, attracting a larger audience is an unrealistic lift to place in one person’s hands.
The Academy’s many structural and PR failures are not the only reason ratings are down. (How many people actually saw Room?)
We’ve discussed managing expectations before. Ratings for the telecast have been in decline for nearly a decade. Add to that the media drumbeat that the Motion Picture Academy is living in the last century. And add to that the numerous calls for a nationwide boycott of this year’s ceremony.
Chris Rock is a consistently funny, intelligent, boundary-pushing comedian/actor/director/producer/author. He is not, however, The Miracle Worker*.
*Winner 1962 Academy Awards for Best Actress & Best Supporting Actress