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The 88th Academy Awards held last Sunday featured a frenzy of photographers and fans, a red carpet studded with Hollywood’s film-making elite and a protest led by Al Sharpton outside the Dolby Theatre. Without a doubt, this year’s Oscars were not your run-of-the-mill award show. It’s not unheard of for a political statement to slip out during the show—like in 1973 when Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, then president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, to accept his Best Actor award for “The Godfather,” to bring attention to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television and movie reruns.” But this year’s Oscars promised to be controversial from the day the nominees were announced. Anyone monitoring news or social media in could see the writing on the wall.
For the second year in a row, not one African-American received a nomination for the Best Actor/Actress or Best Supporting Actor/Actress awards, spurring immediate controversy and a call to boycott the event. After all, the movie “Straight Outta Compton” had already received a number of awards, and many expected Idris Elba and Will Smith to earn nominations for their roles in “Beasts of No Nation” and “Concussion,” respectively. You can see from the Share of Voice chart below, that Race & Oscars garnered the largest share of voice of all issues.
Interestingly, however, some other issues were trending at and after the Oscars. Climate change earned just over 20 percent of the Share of Voice, thanks to the acceptance speech by Leonardo DiCaprio. Who pays that close attention to acceptance speeches? Well, many of his fans (including yours truly) have been waiting for years to hear him give an Oscar acceptance speech, and it probably didn’t hurt that Leo and his “Titanic” heartthrob Kate Winslet appeared together, causing a collective sigh among romantics everywhere.
Sexual assault also earned a significant Share of Voice. That’s understandable for two big reasons: The Best Picture winner, “Spotlight,” tells the true story of how investigative reporting by the Boston Globe brought systemic child molestation within a local Catholic Archdiocese to light, and Lady Gaga stirred emotions with a powerful performance of her Oscar-nominated song from “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary on rape on college campuses, which also happened to be introduced by Vice President Joe Biden who shared the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual assault.
Another interesting insight comes when you look at Share of Voice for the films that were up for awards. While “Mad Max Fury Road” cleaned up, winning six of the 10 categories for which it was nominated, it earned a scant 6.75 percent of the media Share of Voice while the Best Picture winner, “Spotlight,” and the film featuring the Best Actor winner, “The Revenant,” both earned just over 35 percent of Share of Voice. Clearly, the “best” matters less in the eyes of the media when it’s related to costume design, film editing, make-up and hair styling, production design, sound editing and sound mixing—despite the fact that without these things movies would be as thrilling as the silent home movies that your parents or grandparents drag out on holidays.
Looking at People Mentioned, Chris Rock won the night.
Rather than decline his hosting spot to join for the #oscarssowhite boycott, Chris Rock used his comedic talents to confront the race issue head on; afterwards, more than one media outlet pointed out that while he talked about the lack of diversity and poked fun at typecasting of African Americans in the film industry, he missed the mark more than once, particularly when he “trotted out three Asian children as the Academy’s accountants, the kind of stereotyping that clashed with the overall messaging of the evening,” as The Verge put it.
Overall, media gave the Oscars a thumbs up through articles and posts that were positive.
Did the controversy before the Oscars—or the social issues touched on during the event—impact viewership? It’s hard to tell. Viewership hit a low for the past eight years, but the drop in African American viewers was only down by 2 percent according to Nielsen numbers, suggesting that the boycott received more media attention than actual followers. Moreover, the critically-acclaimed films that received nominations were not necessarily the blockbuster movies that encourage fans to tune in to the award show. We’ll just have to monitor the media next year to see if this issue-filled Academy Awards was an anomaly or the start of a trend.