The Academy’s Response to #OscarsSoWhite: Did they get it right?

May 19, 2016

 

The controversy heard ‘round the world. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was birthed by April Reign and quickly gained the attention of millions. The hashtag gained even more momentum when Jada Pinkett-Smith took to the web with a video that would break the internet and rally the black entertainment community to take a stand. The Oscars, also known as the Academy Awards, remained silent for a while, but quickly realized that this PR controversy was not going to go away any time soon. They responded in various ways that would seem to work in most cases. But in this instance, which involves such hot-button issues, did the Oscars get it right?

  1. They apologized. The Academy did the right thing but in the wrong way. They acknowledged that there was a problem and responded to the community without necessarily having a conversation with them. Having an open dialogue in a situation like this is important. In The Power of Dialogue, Scott London says that when done well, the benefits of of two-way communication can be remarkable. In his article he says that open communication between two parties can quash stereotypes and help to develop trust. Public relations is about developing relationships with people but maintaining them is just as important. The Academy has missed an opportunity to repair and nurture a relationship with a segment of their audience who feel isolated and dismissed. Creating an open dialogue with people of color would give the Oscars the opportunity to provide a voice for those who’ve often felt left out of the conversation.
     

  2. They diversified. The Academy appointed three diversity governors to their board. The director of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs said that with the addition of an African American producer and a Korean director to the board, it had “much more of diversity to it.” Before the addition of these two people of color, the board was comprised solely of  white members. Adding these two people will sway only 5 percent of the vote. So much for diversity, right? I know that we can’t expect for them to make drastic changes so quickly, but they must consider how little their diversifying effects change. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and the Academy will take steps to assemble a board that more closely reflects a diverse population of movie goers.  Straight Outta Compton, grossed over 200 million dollars and became the highest grossing musical biopic of all time, didn’t receive a nomination at all. Also, the cast didn’t score any invitations. Could this be because no one on the board would be interested in watching a film about the birth of gangster rap? I’m not saying that having a preference is a bad thing, but when your preference isolates some subset of the population, it can cause problems that a simple apology can’t cure.
     

  3. They let a person of color-okay- a black guy host the Oscars. Chris Rock hosted the Oscars for the second time, and while normally it would have been a good thing, this time, it was the worst thing they could have done. Chris Rock started out okay. He talked about the lack of diversity in a somewhat humorous way that seemed to effectively get the message across without offending or guilt-tripping half of the guests. Then, without missing a beat, Rock managed to offend the people he was supposed to be supporting. He made a joke about accountants and then the camera panned to a few Asian children and guess what… more controversy. Rock also managed to offend some within the Black community by taking a shot at Jada Pinkett Smith. More controversy. In an instant, the Oscars went from cleaning up their mess to making another one. I felt like Kanye West was going to come out on stage and say “The Academy doesn’t care about Black people. Or Asians.” While Chris Rock’s monologue almost certainly reflected his own thoughts, for that one night he became a part of the Oscars’ brand. His words became their words and in the midst of all the controversy, the Academy should have been more protective of their brand. And while people are heralding Rock for his courage in confronting the issue, the Academy is taking the heat for being insensitive and inappropriate.
     

  4. They apologized. Again. Of course the Asian community was offended. Not only had they been left out of the nominations as well, but they were also the butt of the joke heard around the world. Boone apologized and assured that the Academy didn’t intend to offend anyone. She said that they had set up a meeting to fix that problem, also.

If I had to give their PR team a grade, it would be a C-. While the Academy tried to do the right thing, they failed. Miserably. Dealing with issues as serious and sensitive as racism and segregation takes skill and authenticity. There needs to be acknowledgement, repentance, and most of all ,dialogue. And while the Oscars acknowledged and apologized, they didn’t really open up the lines of communication with a community that has supported them for 89 years. The silver lining of this cloud is that nobody really cares about the Oscars and they’re only relevant once a year. This gives the Academy time to reflect and improve because they might not get another chance.

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