February 28, 2016
Written by Juliana Simone
Hollywood, CA – Sunday night’s airing of the 88th annual Academy Awards, the highest award ceremony presented to those who work in the film industry whether in front of the camera or behind, received the second worst ratings to date. (Editor: Other reports are saying third worst. In an eight year low, 34.5 million or a viewing of 23.4% according to households)
Each year, they have steadily declined among worldwide viewership. Worst ratings on record were in 2008, when Jon Stewart hosted and only 32 million tuned in to be the lowest on record. As far as Nielsen can track, 1998 was the best year for viewership, when the film “Titanic” won for best picture of the year, with 55 million viewers.
With no NFL Super Bowl, debate among President Candidates or a final episode along the magnitude of a popular long-running show like “The Soprano’s” airing simultaneously during the broadcast, analysis has to strike this reason from the menu. What’s left?
To advertisers, the aforementioned declining ratings, but that’s business, and does not address the people at home tuning in. The films that were nominated? The actors who were nominated? Always a consideration, as a respectable blockbuster in terms of returns does beef up the interest. But none of the films listed under more than one category for ‘best’ had the buzz of former winners over the decades. Still, for the millions of people who used to love to watch the Oscar’s, regardless of how much a film earned, we’ll have to strike this off the menu, as well.
Granted, the late comedienne Joan Rivers was no longer on the red carpet to provide hours of pre-show off color comments and rude remarks about celebrities attire, acting abilities and private lives. This maybe could have kept a slim margin of fans from tuning in who only liked that part of the exhibition.
Traditional day of the week, Sunday, and starting hour, 8-9PM; for forty-hour a week people living in the Eastern Time Zone, who have to get up early for an eight hour work day, a true devotee could hang in until midnight to see the best picture winner. So, for film enthusiasts, program scheduling gives us another strike.
The Oscar’s have always had teasers preceding the show of what viewers could expect from this year’s ceremony. Advertisements and promotions would either feature a popular host, such as comedian and film actor Billy Crystal, or clips from a movie that reached millions around the world in terms of vast revenue and enthusiastic reputation. 2016? Bleak results.
Which leads the dismal ratings to the message. When the Academy of Motion Arts, announced the nominees for Oscars, and none of them were African American, the Academy voters were called out as prejudiced by some in the black community. Long-time members of the Academy, found this charge both insulting and false, and some notable Oscar winners made contrary statements to this charge. Boycotts called upon from both sides ensued saying they would not be attending the ceremony.
Outspoken comedian Chris Rock was the emcee of the award show, and industry people in addition to viewers, expected the black actor to turn the live venue into a show emphasizing that no black Americans were nominated for Oscar’s because of bigotry. Particularly, prejudice among the veteran Academy voters, whose majority of votes choose both the nominees and the winners in each category.
This year’s message was one that neither resonated with the general viewing public, or the Hollywood A-list. Anyone watching, whether a regular viewer or not, had to notice none of the seats in the room, even in the front rows, had any A-list actor or actress watching the ceremony.
There was no Jack Nicholson wearing his traditional black shades and big smile; no multi-Oscar award winning Meryl Streep; no old-school trophy winners like Ford, DeNiro, Hoffman, Dreyfuss, Caine or Pacino. The next tier was absent as well: Clooney, Pitt, Jolie, Aniston, Fiennes, Willis, Cruise, Depp; The youngest tier also was missing – Johannson, Stewart/Pattinson/Lautner, Hedlund, Radcliffe.
The only people in the room were people who were nominated for an Oscar Sunday evening, were presenting, or who were affiliated with a film that was up for an Oscar. Short list. Matt Damon, Michael Keaton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Theron and Russell Crowe.
Rock, thought it was okay to announce the first two presenters with this introduction, “You want diversity? We got diversity. Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.” Imagine a Caucasian Master of Ceremonies introducing two female African American actresses, and suggesting one of them was blacker. Al Sharpton would still be on our television today demanding someone to give back their Oscar, or that they were never hired again or the movie would be boycotted.
Both women admirably took Rock’s comment in stride, didn’t bat an eye and continued with the job at hand, reading their lines, opening the envelope and announcing the winner.
As a gimme, most Academy people not on hand but watching, and viewers in the know, would have given Rock one cause-oriented commentary as host, to make a statement and move on, but unfortunately, the message continued throughout the entire broadcast at every opportunity, shortchanging many award recipients who had little to do with the discussion.
Black comedian, actress and Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg, joined Rock throughout the night in different skits as a cynical commentator dressed as a cleaning woman.
Ironically, most of the actors who participated in the opportunity to insult the Academy, peers, colleagues and perspective audiences, have earned millions of dollars from this industry, including multiple awards, accolades and continual work in the entertainment business – whether on Broadway, or through film, television, publishing, live appearances, etc.
Interestingly, among the top five highest grossing actors of all time, are Samuel Jackson at number two, Morgan Freeman at number four, and Eddie Murphy at number five. (source: IMDb)
To call Hollywood biased against minorities is a bit of a stretch. Ask any family going movie fan, young or old, let alone a conservative; or a liberal, happy to see all of these corners of the human experience exposed. Barrier after social barrier has been broken by filmmakers, whether the audience was going to approve of the story or not. Social acceptance of anything beyond the norm, or former norm, is something they gravitate towards when exposing stories to the majority, regardless of outcome.
The only downside for the studios, something they originally may not have considered, was low viewer turnout and negative box office receipts. Perhaps they consoled themselves with the idea that pay-per-view or DVD rentals at the time would make them even, if not profitable. Regardless, the end-all message seems to be more important at times to Hollywood and its foreign contributors, even if it has to trickle down to Independent Film with a more cult following than blockbuster status.
Sadly, the Hollywood agenda has taken the thrill out of newly released movies that used to keep the masses standing in line for a ticket, however cold the evening or long the wait. The only films to witness this kind of enthusiasm anymore is a formula that’s always worked before – like another episode of a long-running action/adventure series like “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones” or “James Bond.” Or, even further back in time, classic films like “Gone With The Wind,” “King Kong,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “Rear Window.”
As much as Hollywood has had the advantage of dictating their message on Americans who simply wanted to go watch a film, modern technology has taken that away from them today. In today’s society, consumers possess screens of any size at their fingertips 24/7, whether through their smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, cable TV, or Internet options like Hulu and Netflix. This myriad of choices today now rests with the audience and not the studios.
In conclusion, if African Americans want to say the Academy Award members didn’t choose one member of their race for an Oscar this year, and continue to argue it was due to their race without considering the idea that others may have deserved the nomination more, then they can leave it up to the people. Viewers of film every day have the choice of picking their favorite films as mentioned earlier, through so many formats. If the movies they participated in are better than those the Academy recognized this year, the numbers will be available, which should appease the objectors. Additionally, the residuals will be so high, income will be the reward no one seemed to want to address during Oscar night 2016, regardless of a gold statuette.