Oscars Boycott – Missing the Mark?

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Will boycotting the Oscars make a difference? Will it move the diversity needle in Hollywood and promote real change?

For two years in a row, not a single person of color has been nominated for one of the 20 coveted acting Academy Awards. Igniting the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy, several prominent Hollywood celebrities are calling for a boycott of this year’s Academy Awards. In analyzing how shockingly homogeneous the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ voting membership is in our recent article “And the Oscar Goes To…Old White Men,” it is easy to understand why there is outrage.

The data do not lie. The recent USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism study only underscores how pervasive the film industry’s lack of inclusion is – concluding there is an “epidemic of invisibility” with women and ethnic minorities being excluded at all levels of the industry.

But is crying out against the Oscars and the Academy shooting at the wrong target? Yes and no.

#OscarsSoWhite = Promoting Change

Undoubtedly, the Academy needs to enter the 21st Century and diversify its voting membership. It is currently operating off of a 1920s throwback membership model. The reason why the Oscar nominations reflect such a blatant lack of diversity is directly linked to how old, white, and male the Academy’s voting members are. By changing who votes, we can expand the demography of who is nominated for and receives the industry’s highest honor.

The controversy is already having an impact.

Once this year’s nominations were announced, there was instant public uproar. With pressure coming from Hollywood royalty like George Clooney to Will Smith, the Academy quickly responded with action – announcing new initiatives to diversify its voting membership. Arguably, the announcement sought to quiet the storm and discourage further calls for an Oscars boycott. Only time will tell if these new initiatives are just window dressing.

Yet, the Academy’s swift response shows that the mere call for a boycott did promote immediate change on some level. The real work, however, is in causing a shift where it really counts – not with prizes but with the major film studios where the big decisions are made.

Hit the Wallet for Long-Term Change

From a strategic perspective, the only way to lead people to water and make them drink is if you siphon off their cash flow. Why did the bus boycotts work during the Civil Rights Movement? It was not because everyone started believing equality was the righteous path for our democracy. The direct economic impact pushed companies towards bankruptcy. Then, the bus companies responded to this pressure with change.

While not advocating for any boycott, we all know that money talks when people walk. Consumers must send signals. Whenever we buy something, we vote with our dollars. Companies respond by supplying what their customer-base demands. If people stopped watching certain films – expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of inclusion with who is behind the camera, on camera, backing the films, and greenlighting the projects – we would see change.

The bottom line is the real target should be the large movie studios. Consumers and Hollywood’s talent need to aim directly for the bigger industry problem.

What’s the Solution? Target the Film Studios

Studio executives at companies like 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Pictures, and Warner Brothers Pictures, who select what gets made, need to be held accountable and more inclusive. This is about going beyond addressing the symptoms and instead creating a cure. This is about hiring and creating opportunities for more minorities and women.

Not until the industry’s leadership changes will we have more films with diverse talent to even pick from for awards like the Oscars. When the people in the boardroom start looking like the rest of America, then we will evolve from just having the black director tell the “black” story in Selma to also having a black director or producer make what should be a race-neutral story like James Bond.

The trick is making them want to change. It has to be in their economic best interest. Maybe not through a film boycott, but by consumers showing that they want to see their stories told and reflected on screen. Industry executives should know there is a market for a broader range of stories that generate revenues at the box office.

Until Then, It’s Just Baby Steps…

This time next year, we will probably see a marginal uptick in diversity with who gets an Oscar nomination. Change will not happen overnight. It will take time for the Academy to expand its voting membership given its strict membership requirements.

Fundamental shifts in how studios like Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures run their businesses are required to truly embrace an inclusive culture. Nothing major will happen until there is a change with the people in key positions of power.


The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace – providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

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