In my post on the announcement that Reginald Hudlin and David Hill had been tapped to produce the 88th Oscars telecast, a couple of months ago, I wondered whether the Academy’s seemingly newfound *diversity interests* under current president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) might also mean a non-white host for next year’s celebration.
The news of Hudlin and Hill being hired to produce the 88th telecast came a few days after Boone Isaacs announced that Spike Lee would be a recipient of an Honorary Oscar at this year’s Governors Awards ceremony.
"Our eyes are open," Boone Isaacs said. "This is where we get to recognize those who have contributed so much. It just happened this year to be two women and an African American male."
Boone Isaacs also said that Governors Award honorees were "part of the normalization" of the more than 7,000-member organization, which in the last three years has invited a larger, more diverse group of people to join.
The academy has very publicly been criticized for its overwhelmingly white, male membership, as well as the general *whiteness* of the Oscars (in terms of nominees, notably; although that’s another conversation for another time) – something that’s been very well documented, and that Boone Isaacs seems intent on doing something about, given her above comments.
And maybe bringing in Reggie Hudlin to co-produce the next Oscars is just one move in that direction.
My research tells me that the last time an Oscars event was produced by an African American was at the 68th Academy Awards ceremony in 1996, which was produced by Quincy Jones and directed by Jeff Margolis. And coincidentally, it was also hosted by an African American in Whoopi Goldberg – her second time as host. Not that simply because Hudlin is African American, the host also will be or should be African American (and he is also just one-half of the producing team; the other being David Hill, who is white). But, given all I’ve already explained, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the selected host is indeed African American.
As Hill told Variety previously, after it was announced that he and Hudlin would be producing the event next year, “Reggie knows film inside out, and I know live television, so we are hopefully going to come up with something interesting.” Hudlin added that an obviously very important item on their to-do list is finding a host, telling Entertainment Weekly that they were considering co-hosts (which we’ve seen before) as one option: “We’re still very much looking at every possibility. At our first meeting, I mentioned a possible pairing, and David flipped; since then I have thrown out another four or five names and David brought up ideas.”
Hudlin added that the selected hosts could be an existing comedy pair (when I read that, Key & Peele were the first names that came to mind), or it could be a team that’s never worked together: “We have talked about people who might be exciting odd couples,” he said.
Today, Variety is reporting that one former host, Chris Rock, is in "serious talks" to host the 88th Academy Awards, adding that an official announcement is expected shortly.
In the 84 years of Academy Awards celebrations, only 5 African Americans have hosted the ceremony – Sammy Davis Jr in 1972 (although it was a team effort – he co-hosted with Helen Hayes, Alan King, and Jack Lemmon; he would co-host again in 1974, in another team effort), Diana Ross in 1974 (again, also a team effort, co-hosting with John Huston, Burt Reynolds and David Niven), Richard Pryor in 1977 (another team effort with Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda; he would co-host again in 1983, in another team effort), Whoopi Goldberg in 1994 (and again in 1996, 1999 and 2002, making her the record-holder in terms of African Americans who have hosted the most, and really THE first solo black host of the show), and finally Chris Rock in 2004.
Eddie Murphy would have made it 6 if he didn’t jump ship after assigned producer Brett Ratner had to resign, thanks to his dumb homophobic comment a couple of years ago
I actually wouldn’t mind seeing Chris Rock get a second opportunity. I think he was maybe a bit too edgy for the crowd when he first hosted 11 years ago,but I liked that. It’s a show that needs that kind of a shake-up, otherwise it’ll be an utter bore.
It’s also worth noting that having a black host for the Oscars has proven to be a ratings coup for the show (especially when paired with nominated black performers/films). For example, this year’s Academy Awards show saw a 16% decline in viewership, the lowest rating for total viewer count in 6 years. You’ll recall my pre-Oscars piece on the correlation that Nielsen found between the number of black Oscar nominees, hosts, and viewership. Of the last 10 years, the BEST year for Oscar viewership and ratings was (coincidentally) when Chris Rock hosted the show, and several black actors were nominated in major categories, including Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman and Sophie Okonedo, and the film "Ray" was nominated for best picture. Roughly 5.3 million black viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen, helping to lift the show’s draw to over 42 million viewers – a rarity in this millennium.
And to restate why a drop in viewership is a concern for the Academy, the Oscar telecast generates by far the biggest part of the Academy’s $151.5 million annual revenue, and maintaining high ratings is essential to its financial success. Academy leaders are also aware that a failure to attract a diverse audience risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.
Like a lot of things, it comes down to dollars and cents. There is money to made in diversity, as reports from the UCLA Ralph Bunche Center, the WGA, and others recently, have all shown (and the unprecedented number of TV pilots ordered by networks this year, with black actors in starring, lead and supporting roles). "All black everything" (almost) seems to be the way to go currently, for Hollywood… that is, until it’s not. So this might be as good a time as any for the likes of Chris Rock, or maybe even Key & Peele, Kevin Hart, and any of the other potential candidates for the job, to get a shot at hosting the Oscars – assuming they all want to.
The 88th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by ABC at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.