In my post on the announcement that Reginald Hudlin and David Hill had been tapped to produce the 88th Oscars telecast, earlier this week, 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 will 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.
I may be wrong, but 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 because Hudlin is African American that 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, humor me for the sake of this post… this is a black film blog after all.
As Hill told Variety on Tuesday 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.” And on Wednesday morning, 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.
So who should be on this short list of contenders?
Well, I just mentioned the names of a team that I think just may be at the top of the list – Key & Peele. It would actually be a perfectly-time send-off of sorts, since they announced in July that, after the current season of the show, there will be no more Key & Peele, as each of them wanders off to tackle individual projects.
In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if Hudlin and Hill have already approached them about the gig.
Who else? Key & Peele are maybe at peak popularity right now, so I’d assume that whomever is being considered is likely also having a great year (or very recent years).
So, in consideration of that, Kevin Hart could be on the short list as well.
In fact, he’s already campaigned for the job. Earlier this year, appearing on "Live with Kelly and Michael," Hart shared his strong interest in hosting the Academy Awards ceremony, even saying that his appearance on their show, was the beginning of his "campaign" to land the gig next year.
"That would be a major accomplishment. With what I’ve done and the progress I’ve made in my career, that’s definitely the next major step, I feel, for a comedian. To say you’ve hosted the Oscars, to grace that stage, turn that event into a youthful night," Hart said, adding that he’d love to mix up a bit: "My goal is to be able to do it and adapt to that environment! At the same time, give it a little spice!"
I should mention that even prior to that interview, Hart voiced his interest in hosting the Oscars while on the red carpet at this year’s event. "I can’t even hide it, I think it’s in my face," Hart told ET’s Nancy O’Dell and Kevin Frazier. "This is my first time being at the Oscars. I’m in awe! I’m a kid in the candy story. This is a testament that you’re going in the right direction. This is that one step. The next step is to come back and host."
So his campaign really began many months ago. Although I haven’t read or heard anything else from him on the subject, since "Kelly and Michael."
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
And from available info, it looks like Eddie could still be a potential candidate worth considering for the job. The question is whether he did indeed hurt his chances, because of his last stunt, and also whether he actually still wants to do it.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Chris Rock get a second opportunity. I think he was maybe a bit too edgy for the crowd, the first time he hosted; but I liked that about his presentation.
Maybe Whoopi Goldberg could get another try at the job – assuming she’d even be interested.
Oprah Winfrey was once rumored to have been approached as well in recent years. What about her?
Samuel L. Jackson is another possibility. There’s just a general "I-don’t-give-a-damn-ness" about him that I think could shake things up a bit. I could see him having a lot of fun on stage as host.
How about a blast from the past in Arsenio Hall? His late-night talk show reboot failed, and maybe his *day* has passed, we could say; but at one time, I could’ve definitely seen him hosting.
Some other names to think about include: Dwayne Johnson (who’s having a great year), Jamie Foxx, Donald Glover, Will Smith, and Dave Chapelle.
Other than Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, I’m having a tough time coming up with black women who have enough of an industry rep to be considered for the job. You guys can chime on that.
Or maybe Hudlin and Hill will surprise us, and select a person (or people) that nobody expects. Maybe they go with a completely fresh face; although I don’t see that happening. Past Oscar hosts have always been *names* of some kind.
But why would anyone want to host the Oscars, especially when past hosts have essentially slammed the job as one that’s just not worth the effort?
You’ll recall when one former Oscars co-host, Alec Baldwin, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter 2 years ago, shared his concerns for producers of future Academy Awards, who he said would face big challenges in finding celebrities to front the show – because it’s a thankless job that pays "chicken feed," and isn’t at all worth the censorious aftermath that has followed recent hosts: "The Oscars is a completely thankless job. It’s really tough," he said.
And when asked whether he’d ever host again (he hosted with Steve Martin in 2009), he replied: "No. Never, never, never. And I enjoyed doing it. What the Oscars absolutely, unequivocally should be is a show with a little bit of entertainment and a very reverential overview of movies of that year. And that show would last about two hours, and it would be a very tight show with a lot of serious, cineastic appreciation. But the Oscars is also a television program that raises 90 percent of the Academy’s budget for the year in a single night. When the Oscars is three hours — when they bullshit you and say that the Oscars is running long, and that’s a problem — that’s not a problem. They’re making more money. So ABC and the Academy, they have no interest in doing a tight, better-produced show. They are forced, because of economic constraints, to have a flabby, tired show."
When the interviewer responded with a statement about hosts facing strong criticism, Baldwin continued with his brutal honesty: "They need to gamble on the show, and they’re not gambling. I am a member of the Academy, but everyone who has done it lately has been crucified. So they’re not going to get anybody who is reasonably talented or special to take that chance anymore. They don’t pay you any money; the Oscars pay you like chicken feed. It’s all about the honor of helping to extol film achievement. But they’re going to have a tough time."
And when asked if there was anyone he thought would be the best candidate for the job, Baldwin said: "Ellen DeGeneres. She would work. Everybody likes her, and she can be edgy without being too edgy."
It’s also worth noting that 2013’s Oscar host, Seth MacFarlane, echoed very similar sentiments about the gig, saying that he would never do it again.
And this year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, echoed similar sentiments: "I don’t know that my family nor my soul could take it… It’s a beast. It was fun to check off the list, but for the amount of time spent and the understandable opinionated response, I don’t know that it’s a delightful balance to do every year or even again."
He added: "It’s so difficult for one who’s simply watching the show to realize just how much time and concession and compromise and explanation has gone into almost every single thing… And I’m not saying that to defend everything I said as if it was the absolute best choice, but it’s also an award show, and you’re powering through 14 acts filled with 20 plus awards. So, my job was to try and keep things as light and specific to this year’s set of films as possible. And if people are critical of that, it’s a big giant platform, so I would assume that they would be."
But maybe what the Academy does need to do is indeed have a black host for next year’s show. Why? 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 in 2005, 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 reiterate 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 Key & Peel, Kevin Hart, and any of the other names I mentioned here, to get their 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.