Oscars lack diversity, audience


Annie Cohen, Deputy Opinion Editor

Deep in the doldrums of winter, there is one event that is always hotly anticipated: the Oscars. The annual awards ceremony marking cinematic achievements consistently delivers on the entertainment front, even if some jokes or moments occasionally fall flat. But despite its heavy presence on Twitter, this year’s telecast drew the smallest audience in six years. While the Academy likely expected choosing Neil Patrick Harris as host would draw in younger viewers, the low viewership highlights the need for the Oscars to change.

Despite its poor viewer performance, this year’s Oscars produced an unusually large shadow of controversy, perhaps due to the lack of diversity among the nominees. This problem was not ignored throughout the ceremony — Harris managed to humorously address the issue in his opening monologue, mentioning that the Oscars honored “Hollywood’s best and whitest — sorry, brightest.” But the lighthearted ribbing and self-awareness did not help the show’s falling ratings, especially considering that younger generations tends to be more accepting of diversity.

Every nominee in every acting category this year was white, which caused such a backlash that it inspired a viral hashtag on Twitter, #OscarsSoWhite. Perhaps this should not have been so surprising — the voting members of the Academy are a staggering 94 percent white and 77 percent male. The demographic discrepancy between the Academy voters and actual moviegoers should not be so vast. If the Academy included a more balanced array of voters, perhaps their selections would be more in line with the general consensus of viewers.

To remain relevant, more changes must be made. Last year’s viewership was bolstered by the inclusion of many commercially successful films; this year’s films included six independent features that ordinary moviegoers were less familiar with. While it is important that nominations be of exceptional quality, the Academy allows for up to 10 films in the best picture category. This number increased from just five in 2009 to allow for more mainstream films to be considered. This year, films like “Gone Girl” and “Interstellar” were notably snubbed, despite the fact that they were critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful. People may not have tuned in to the broadcast due to a lack of knowledge about the films being celebrated, and the Academy would do well to learn from this when considering which films to honor next year.

Flaws aside, the Academy Awards ceremony continues to be the epitome of Hollywood glamour and success. The show appeals to many young adults wishing to enter into a world of cinema, but its exclusivity may turn out to be its downfall. But Sunday night proved, the Oscars can shed light on world issues and perhaps even inspire change for future years.

A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 25 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected].