The Oscar ‘Diversity’ Plan is Bogus

Presented by a token Black woman, the toothless plan has all the attributes of a fraud.

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 16 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

Oscars all whiteThe recent splashy announcement that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts was going to “double” their “diversity” in the aftermath of the uproar over yet another all-white Oscars is bogus. Here’s how you can tell:

1. Use of words that provide no contrast, lack of a plan to accomplish the goal and a lack of transparency are usually signs of fraud in business. “Double?” Double what, exactly? The goal was released without releasing the demographics of the people who vote for the Oscars. The most recent research was done by the Los Angeles Times, and the article shows that the Academy is overwhelmingly white (93 percent), older (90 percent over 40) and male (77 percent). If you take them at their word, the Academy’s goal is 84 percent white and 54 percent women — in other words, the Academy’s press release should be headlined: Hollywood aspires to achieve the racial diversity of 1960!

Given the lack of opportunity for anyone other than white people in Hollywood throughout its history, I have no idea how they’re going to even get their diversity to reach 1960 levels. No plan was presented, so I wonder if they have any idea.

2. The person making the announcement is conspicuously unlike the people who are actually responsible. The president of the Academy is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a career publicist and a Black woman. She was elected to the position in 2013 by the Academy board of governors; she was the third woman (and first Black) in the Academy’s history be elected to the position. She is unlike 97 percent of the Academy — a number that defines “token” — and she gets to be the public face for the bad behavior of people who don’t look like her. Dr. Carson, are you paying attention?

3. Misuse of the word diversity. All people are part of diversity. Using “diversity” as a euphemism for non-white men allows the white men to think of themselves as normal and everyone else as abnormal or “diverse.” In the case of the Oscars, the response from Hollywood is clearly on a Black/white axis. Sales numbers tell me that this is far more complicated, and dire, than they are reacting to:

– 62 percent of tickets sold are to people under age 40, half to women.

– 46 percent of tickets sold (in the U.S.) are to non-white people. Hispanics and Asians over-index the rest of the population as frequent moviegoers.

Box office sales of U.S. films are now larger in Asia that they are in the United States.

– Box office gross receipts and attendance are declining in the United States. People under 40 account for most tickets sold; however, attendance among younger people declined more sharply.

– Tickets sold per person have declined, and the price of tickets has risen less than the rate of inflation.

The real reason the Academy should change is business. The overwhelming majority of box office dollars are not coming from the demographic almost completely represented by the Academy. Therefore, the awards go to people who are not represented by the audience, and the almost all white leadership of the movie industry chases the rabbit down the rabbit hole, as they covet the Award that takes them down the path to irrelevancy.

A “diversity” initiative should have solid business reasons behind it, clear goals with starting and ending points and the metrics and transparency necessary to understand the process. The effort should be announced by people who have the authority to be accountable for change. 

Hollywood is leaking dollars; stagnant and declining US box office sales are masked by rising global box office sales. The consumer is not reflected in Hollywood studios, and this is having its consequences in the end product, which is not as attractive as it once was to the consumer — opening the door for competitors around the world. It’s a slow fade now, but that usually has its consequences. Ask the record industry. Or the taxi industry. Or the newspaper industry. Or the American car industry.


  • Jim Bob Lassiter

    None of the people yammering about this have the slightest grasp of statistics. Over the past 20 years of the 80 WINNERS of Oscars for best actor, best actress, best actor in supporting role and best actress in supporting role, 12 were Afro-Americans. That pretty much reflects the national percentage of people who self-identify as Black or African-American.

    So you miss a few every now and then. I don’t get the same amount of “average rainfall” every year without fail where I live either. Suck it up and deal with it you twits.

    • Who did the math for you Jim Bob? Saw your story “the horn”, a wacko website which apparently can’t add.

      Here is a slightly more trustworthy source: A key fact from that article: 95% of Oscar nominations have gone to white people. Asian people and Latinos have been overlooked even more often (proportionally) than Blacks.

      Asian and Latino Americans are the two fastest-growing demographics. Regardless of how you feel about nonwhite people, overlooking them ( and insulting everyone’s intelligence with foolish press releases) is a poor business plan.

      • Luke,

        Hate to play Devil’s Advocate, because I agree with you for the most part on the lack of diversity in Hollywood. But you quoted your article wrong. 85% of nominations went to white people between 2007-13, according to the article bar graph, not 95%.

        And there is a further problem with that article, a disconnect between “popular movies” and movies that are worthy of “oscar nominations.” In my recollection probably about 60% of “popular movies” are never considered for “oscar nomination” because they don’t fit the academy criteria in some way shape or form.

        Lastly while the Academy Nominations may be a symptom of what is wrong with Hollywood, the true problem is from that ground up that there is a lack of opportunity for minority actors period, and even much less opportunity for quality parts for minority actors. That will have to change before the Academy nominations become representative of the population.

        For all the who decry the lack of “positive” roles depicting minorities, well there are not a lot of positive roles depicting anybody because positive is uninteresting and does not sell movies. So if you want more positive roles for minorities you should probably show that with your movie dollars spent on movies that are positive for everybody and show that positive stories make economic sense for Hollywood.

        • I think we are both right – here’s the quote I referred to “These years are far from the first whitewashing in Oscars history: no actors from ethnic minorities were nominated in 1995 or 1997, or in an extraordinary streak between 1975 and 1980. Throughout the 20th century, 95% of Oscar nominations went to white film stars.”

          But, here’s the problem with your quote: By 2007, most of Hollywood’s customers (and the overwhelming majority of growing/new customers) were already not white. There’s another problem, the Sony email hack revealed the true feelings of Hollywood executives: racist, sexist and not in touch with reality (here’s a hint to senior executives – if you are racist and sexist, eventually somebody’s going to put your email got on the Internet for everyone to see out of retribution, you don’t really think you could hide your racism when you want to do you?)

          I agree with you about your third paragraph. But there is no chicken and egg argument here. The Oscars are awarded by white people to white people, so white people are cast in rolls, so the studios can win more Oscars. It is a vicious cycle and one which is showing up negatively in the sales numbers.

          Finally, your point about positive main characters doesn’t hit the mark. There was a lot of uproar about the main character in the latest Star Wars movie, Rey, who is not included in toy/action figure sets. That was a dumb move, but even dumber not to cast a Chinese woman in the role. China is a larger market for US films than white people in the US.

          If the people making casting decisions were thinking clearly about their market, the cast would’ve been mostly Asian and Latino people. We all want to see ourselves represented in things that we do. That’s why the over 90% white and old people who vote for the Oscars overwhelmingly vote for white actors/writers/producers. It’s a natural reaction, but not one that reflects the reality of the business that they are in.

    • …and, Jim Bob, how many AA’s have been cast as: a thug, sexual trash, a slave, the “help”, and/or in a movie that did everything BUT show the black actor in a positive light? We branch off and create our own avenues of voice because far too often we’ve been misunderstood, misrepresented and misquoted which inevitably leaves the masses misguided and our talents misdirected. So the next time you see: Black Lives Matter, Black Entertainment Television, Miss Black America, Black Wall Street (Tulsa 1921), Black Panther Party, Black Girls Rock, Black People (someone at my daughter’s school wrote a cringe worthy, in-depth article for their newsletter about how racist “black people meet” is to society), HBCU’s, Congressional Black Caucus (etc., etc), don’t be offended and immediately jump to the “that’s racist” or “quit playing the victim” narrative. Know that just as you’d like to be acknowledged and appreciated for the blood, sweat, tears, hard work and excellence devoted to your craft, the same stands true for those who’ve struggled for even the basic luxury of consideration as a human being and not a piece of property.

    • LaTrisha Lake

      I’d also like to address the depressingly outdated term Afro-American. NO ONE with an ounce of understanding regarding diversity uses that term anymore.

  • Great observations, Luke! Hollywood has always been fabulous at creating images and impresions. They have not learned how to do that for themselves in a way that is transparent, and at the same time, it has become rather revealing anyway! How ironic…

  • I’ve said this before, let the coneheads have the Oscars. The event isn’t entertaining and the only reason it has any relevance is because Hollywood professionals consisting of actors, directors, executives, producers, editors and others revere it as the standard.

    Black and brown people need to work within the industries already created called the ALMA and IMAGE awards and begin regarding those as the standard. Whites change the rules for institutions all the time. We need to change the rules and establish these awards as the standard while making the Oscars as the minor. I see many reasons for non Whites to do the same.

    The time where non Whites, especially Blacks stop begging for the affection and acceptance of Whites will do more than any integration/civil rights program ever created.

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