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 2005.
The last time an Oscars ceremony was produced by an African American and also hosted by an African American was at the 68th Academy Awards ceremony in 1996, which was produced by Quincy Jones and hosted by Whoopi Goldberg – her second time as host.
That will happen again this year, when Chris Rock returns to host the awards show for a second time, 11 years after his first time, and Reggie Hudlin co-producing with David Hill.
I stumbled upon Rock’s 2005 opening Oscar night opening monologue (most of it anyway) on The Academy’s YouTube channel, and I thought I’d share, with some color commentary (pun intended).
Watching it again, I was reminded that it wasn’t exactly Rock’s best work, but it was his first attempt, and I assume he may have been restrained in terms of how edgy he could be. But it’s still all Chris Rock. Eleven years older for his second time around as host, I’m expecting an even more caustic Chris Rock, in part because I’m betting that he will be given a lot of leeway in terms of how biting he can be, given the #OscarsSoWhite protests. In essence, it’s like the Academy saying, flog us all you want because we short-changed *you*, and this is *your* payback – the black host gets to make fun of a predominantly white Academy and list of nominees, with some scathing humor, you, the black audience, will like it, and, even if for that reason alone, you might feel avenged in some way, and thus will keep watching.
Just a guess…
Of the last decade, the best years for Oscar viewership and ratings were, first, (coincidentally) when Chris Rock hosted the show in 2005, 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 the second time was in 2014 when "12 Years a Slave" received several nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director), and Barkhad Abdi received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "Captain Phillips." Over $43 million viewers tuned in to watch.
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, last year’s Academy Awards (which, like this year, lacked in terms of nominee diversity, and was not hosted by a black host, or a host of color) saw a 16% decline in viewership (about 37 million viewers tuned in), the lowest rating for total viewer count in the 6 years leading up to that year.
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 $152 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. According to Forbes magazine, for last year’s Oscars (2015), ABC charged an average rate of $1.95 million for each 30-second commercial spot. And this year, according to Ad Age, ABC closed out its deals for the 2016 Oscars at record rates of $2.15 million per 30-second commercial.
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.
Watch Chris Rock’s 2005 Oscars opening monologue.