87th Academy Awards

Directors J.J. Abrams (L) and director Alfonso Cuarón greet the audience prior to announcing the nominees during the 87th Academy Awards Nominations Announcement at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater on January 15, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
( Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America)

*When it comes to matters of diversity, or the lack thereof, Hollywood has been spreading the false narrative for decades that black leads and black films don’t earn money, most especially overseas. 2016 saw a repeat of #OscarsSoWhite because year after year, studio executives prefer to play it safe by cranking out homogenous themes and superheroes. They fear there’s a bigger risk taken when black folks are hired to entertain the masses.

Spike Lee, in an Instagram post announcing his intention not to attend the Oscars this year, said: “As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the “real” battle is. It’s in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gatekeepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to ‘turnaround’ or scrap heap. This is what’s important…The truth is we ain’t in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”

Spike is on point!

Hollywood is scared to hire people of color for executive roles because these people may want to create content that truly reflects the diverse world in which we live. This fear of presenting more diverse casts in movies and television is costing the industry billions of dollars. But according to a new study by researchers out of the University of North Carolina and McGill University, there is good reason to believe studio executives need to check their fear at the door and restructure their race-based business template.

The Huff Post reports that researchers, Venkat Kuppuswamy, an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business Scool, and Peter Younkin, an assistant professor of strategy and organization in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, wanted to figure out how movies featuring African-American actors performed at the box office compared to all-white casts.

“The standard story for why less than a third of films have an African-American in the top, you know, six roles is that perhaps audiences are not that receptive to minority actors,” Kuppuswamy said. “We wanted to see if that was truth.”

READ RELATED STORY: Jasmyne A. Cannick: Black Hollywood Doesn’t Need to Boycott the Oscars, White Liberal Hollywood Does

Venkat and his team collected films released between 2011 and 2015 that met the criteria for Academy Award eligibility, then cut out animated and foreign language films and categorized according to budget, critical success, box office revenues and a few other factors. The next step was to get online coders on Amazon Mechanical Turk to note whether or not each of the top six actors in the film was black. The overall study discovered significant evidence that movies featuring black actors do well at the box office, and surprisingly earn more than films with no black actors at all.

“We did not find a negative effect,” Kuppuswamy said. “In fact, to our somewhat surprise, we found a strong positive effect of having diversity in the cast.”

The team has yet to publish the subsequent study in a peer-reviewed journal, but the researchers shared their data with The Huff Post, which has been illustrated to highlight the extent of Hollywood’s diversity problem.

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