*The Oscars are this Sunday (Feb. 22) and will air on ABC. While many tune in to see who’s wearing what and what films and entertainers will walk away with the major awards, the bigger question may be what happened to the black viewers.
The inquiry comes amid criticism leveled at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a lack of nominees of color for best actor and best actress as well as female contenders in the best director. As noted by The New York Times via Nielsen research, few black Oscar nominees could very well translate into fewer black viewers watching the annual event on TV.
The publication references the 2010 Academy Awards telecast, which boasted a best picture nomination for “Precious” and Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe and Morgan Freeman among the acting nominees. Mo’Nique ended up taking home the award for best supporting actress, with the collecting about 41.7 million total viewers. Of the total watchers, 4.3 million of them were black.
Despite the surge of black viewers tuning in, ratings for the next Oscars, which featured no African-American nominees, dropped 42% among black viewers, which Nielsen attributed to more than half of the decline from the previous year’s viewership despite fewer white and Hispanic people watching.
As for this year, the diversity issue with the Oscars mainly comes from those who are upset with the absence of more nominations for “Selma.” The uproar has caused some to take to social media to encourage a boycott of the Oscars in response.
Although many see the situation with “Selma” as a complete snub of the film, DuVernay recently spoke out on the issue as she mentioned that “Selma” was not shut out, in light of its nominations for best picture and best song for the Common and John Legend collaboration “Glory.”
In addition to black viewers, the Academy has to work on attracting overall viewers as it contends with competition from shows such as “Downtown Abbey” and “The Walking Dead.” TV ads promoting the Oscars tout Common and Legend performing “Glory” during the show as well as performance from 2007 Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. In addition, the show will feature “Selma” star David Oyelowo, Kerry Washington, and Oscar nominees Viola Davis and Chiwetel Ejiofor as presenters, in addition to appearances from fellow nominee Eddie Murphy and Kevin Hart.
The impact of black viewers to the Oscars is a noticeable one. According to the Times, the show has drawn more than 40 million viewers five times in the last 10 years.
“In all five, the black audience showed up and saw a parade of black nominees and winners that included Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, Will Smith and Jennifer Hudson in 2007; Denzel Washington and Quvenzhané Wallis, along with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Django Unchained,” in 2013; and Barkhad Abdi, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, in addition to “12 Years a Slave,” the best picture winner, last year, the Times voiced while acknowledging shrinking numbers of black viewers in the remaining five years, with a decrease of three million or fewer black people watching that translated to under 40 million total viewers.
Prior to the 2010 Oscar broadcast, African-Americans brought in great ratings for the show in 2005. That year, Chris Rock hosted the event, which included Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Freeman and Sophie Okonedo as nominees as well as Foxx’s film “Ray,” which garnered a nomination for best picture
Data from Nielsen shows that 5.3 million black viewers tuned in to the 2005 Oscars to bring the total watchers to 42.1 million viewers.
For more on the connection between ratings for the Academy Awards and black viewers, click here for the NY Times full article.
To further explore the “new” Black Power, check out Nielsen’s 2014 African American consumer report, “Power. Growing. Influential.”