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.
The 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.