Faculty

Looking at leadership: What the Oscars have taught us about a hashtag movement, industry 'firsts'

March 29, 2018 by Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D.

It may not surprise you that in 2018, we are still recognizing a litany of entertainment industry“firsts.” MCU fans are still over the moon because of Black Panther (2018), passing the 1.25 billion mark in ticket sales, preparing to be “the biggest grossing movie ever to A) not (be) released on that pre-Christmas weekend and B) make all its money in a single calendar year” (Forbes, 2018). The magnitude and global attention to such firsts has Hollywood under more of a spotlight than some other career fields. Amidst ongoing scrutiny, the entertainment industry celebrates its own, (whether we follow them or not), via live telecasts, radio broadcasts and dedicated media outlets. The Oscar ceremony is no exception.

This year, advertisers joined the celebration to the tune of $2.6 million. That was the asking price, on average, for “a 30-second (ad) spot … a jump from $1.91 million in 2017…(when) ABC generated $128 million (from that year’s) telecast” (Reuters, 2018).

Advertisers paid more for a 30-second spot this year (to reach a reported 26.5 million viewing households), than they did for the same air time during last year’s telecast, which reached close to 40 million homes.

It has not gone unnoticed that during a steady decline in the telecast’s viewership, industry leaders have faced an uphill battle regarding their emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion, enhanced in recent years by the power of social media and a 24-hour news cycle.

Controversies are nothing new to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Those currently in key leadership roles are being scrutinized by members of their community to see how they handle each new crisis. The academy was founded in 1927 by former MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer and close friends. Actor Douglas Fairbanks was their first elected president, (feel free to take a moment to add the 1920s versions of Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers to your Netflix queue). In those early years, however, some of the biggest Oscar hoop-la may have surrounded the introduction of the sealed envelope in 1940. Previously, winners were published in the LA Times before the gala.

Fast-forward eight decades and a new generation of industry leadership has been tested, having faced “#OscarsSoWhite,” the “Harvey Weinstein scandal,” and “#MeToo.” Most recently, AMPAS President John Bailey faced allegations of sexual misconduct, stemming from a complaint deriving from an incident on a movie set 10 years ago. Hollywood has been the base camp for many a rallying cry for social and humanitarian change, along with their fair share of protests. One journalist wrote, “Oscars…Conservatives, liberals, filmmakers. Who isn't boycotting?   (Gomez, 2017).”

While each of these turning points have shifted culture and consciousness, it is not lost on avid moviegoers and casual fans alike, that the outcry for diversity and inclusion may continue to grow as long as there are firsts to be recognized. With much talk and little action, there are new calls for results yielding equity and representation.

Viewership of the Oscar ceremony may be down, but consumer interest via varying forms of media, are much more targeted with the use of streaming services, mobile apps and the like. Consumers are speaking through their pocketbooks, tablets and TV remotes. Their viewing habits are letting Hollywood know that they wish to see themselves on screen and to hear their stories told via representation in front of and behind the camera.

This was evident the morning after the 2018 Oscars ceremony when Merriam-Webster (dictionary) reported that “inclusion” was their top search of the night, followed by cinematography (see the list of 2018’s Oscar’s “firsts” below and see if you have found a pattern). This search for inclusion came shortly after Frances McDormand’s Oscar acceptance speech (for best actress) where she referenced the term “inclusion rider.” The term, which she herself admitted was new to her, derived from the work of USC’s Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (2017). In short, their research found what many in the moviegoing public have been saying to entertainment industry leaders: “Tell our story.”

Between now and the next Oscars telecast, you have plenty of time to decide what the entertainment industry has to offer you. You can thoughtfully determine what humanitarian movements you wish to champion and which awards shows you choose to ignore. In the meantime, consider engaging in the discussion. You may find something else that deserves the spotlight, as you’re looking at leadership.

Below are some of 2018’s Oscars “firsts” that will hopefully one day, seem as insignificant as (apparently) this year’s telecast proved to be (by the millions):

  • Greta Gerwig was the first female director to land a best director nomination for her directorial debut with “Lady Bird.” (Kathryn Bigelow became the only woman to win the statue at all, for “The Hurt Locker in 2010).
  • Rachel Morrison became the first and only woman to ever be nominated for best cinematography for her work on “Mudbound.
  • James Ivory, who wrote the adapted screenplay for “Call Me by Your Name” at age 89, became the oldest person to ever win an Oscar.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first woman to be nominated for best supporting actress and best original song in the same year.
  • Get Out director Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win for best original screenplay.
  • Ziad Doueri'sThe Insult” became the first Lebanese film to be nominated in the foreign-language film category.
  • Yance Ford became the first openly transgender filmmaker to have a film nominated.
  • Christopher Plummer, at age 88, became the oldest actor nominee in the history of the Oscars.
  • (For all of my fellow superhero fans), “Logan” scored a nomination for best adapted screenplay, becoming the first live-action superhero film to do so (Eonline, 2018).


Johnson_JalinJalin Johnson, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Brandman University School of Business and Professional Studies focusing on business and organizational leadership.

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