“Oscars So White” 88th Annual Academy Awards Overview

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The Oscars have arrived!  A Senior Content Producer at Disney ABC Television Group told me,“It’s going to be a long weekend but it will be exciting. We’ve been planning everything for months now, so it will feel good to put those ideas into action come Sunday.” The 88th Annual Academy Awards air live on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.

The rituals of the show itself seem designed to intensify the feeling of anticipation, pageantry, and unexpected moments, much like reality TV. Emotions run high as stars and filmmakers ponder their acceptance speeches, or prepare their conciliatory smiles if they lose. Viewers want something unscripted, something outrageous.

This Sunday’s Oscar ceremony will be widely watched not just for the award results, but also for the manner in which host Chris Rock and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences address the subject of diversity and race.

While Oscar prognosticators attempt to forecast the winners (all bets are for Leonardo DiCaprio finally taking home Best Actor in Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant), the most-watched entertainment event around the world provides delicious – and important – food for thought that sometimes has nothing to do with the winners.


This year’s Academy Awards are again embroiled in a diversity crisis, now symbolized by the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Oscars are about the celebration of film, but it feels as though the celebration is rather restricted. No actors of color were nominated for the second year in a row despite riveting performances in Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation.

Hollywood’s diversity issue is dominating buzz, demanding airtime and acknowledgment. The Academy has responded by setting in motion a process to broaden the diversity of its voting members. The argument can certainly be made that the film industry still functions as a straight, white boy’s club while the people who go to the movies – people of every color, every race, every gender, every sexual orientation – want to see their stories told.  If the boycott has a direct economic impact, we could see real change from the major film studios.

#OscarsSoWhite 2016

The NAACP has decided against boycotting the 2016 Oscars. It has stated that it would work with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in an effort to improve film industry diversity. There will also be “White Oscars Tune-Out,” a.k.a. Oscar day protests in Hollywood and at ABC stations in New York, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, and Atlanta. Director Spike Lee and actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have announced they will not attend the ceremony. Selma director Ava DuVernay, Creed director Ryan Coogler, and more celebrities say they will attend a fundraising event for Flint, Michigan on Feb. 28, 2016 instead of the Oscars. 

The blame belongs in part on studios and distribution companies as well as Academy membership. The gatekeepers in Hollywood who control what films are greenlighted for production must adapt to tell stories that feature actors representative of the world. “In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond,” Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement. 


Oscars host Chris Rock is a sharp comedian when it comes to race observation: He penned a thoughtful deconstruction about institutional racism and called the Oscars ceremony the “white BET Awards” in a tweet posted after the nominations were announced. As a spotlight is shed on the lack of diversity in the film industry, it is interesting to see what is happening in television. The TV networks understand that it is profitable and successful for TV shows to talk about the culture of the time. By consumers showing that they want to see their stories told and reflected on screen, the 89th Annual Academy Award nominees could feature more minorities and gay/lesbian/transgender people.

Taxation Without Representation

As if being nominated for the film industry’s biggest prize wasn’t enough, some Academy Award nominees will receive the Oscar swag bag – a goodie-bag worth an estimated $232,000 that was created for the Oscars, not by the Oscars. The gift bags include trips and plastic surgery treatments. But buyers beware. 

These swag bags make stars the target of much resentment, including the “rich are unfairly getting richer” attitude. Companies give products away in the vague hope that celebrities might use them and talk about them, or that celebrities might be photographed with them. 

In recent years, the IRS has launched an outreach campaign to the entertainment industry about the taxability of gift bags. The IRS says promotional items are not actually gifts because they are given with the expectation of publicity or other benefits. Swag is now taxable and celebs get an IRS Form 1099. If a star receives gift certificates or vouchers for indulgent getaways or personal services and redeem them, they have to include the fair market value of the trip or service on their tax return. 


Awards show fashion has a strong effect on our memories, our culture, and even our economy. The Oscars have become a major fashion event, and the red carpet is one giant runway. Celebrities have their pick of the season’s latest designs straight from Paris and Milan.

Some commentators wish stylists would disappear so that fashion risk-takers like Cher in her Bob Mackie feather headdress and Björk, who put on an avant-garde swan song concoction, would appear more frequently.  These are people who stand out.  Individuality is vogue.  Fashion publicists pursue Oscar dresses for A-listers that look expensive, polished, elegant and refined, but where’s the fun in that?

What will Lady Gaga, who always pushes the style envelope, wear? As a survivor of sexual assault, she says performing “Til It Happens to You” – her song about sexual abuse on college campuses – at Sunday’s Academy Awards will feel liberating. Vice President Joe Biden will join pop star Lady Gaga on stage at the Oscars to underscore the issue of campus sexual assault. The song was featured in the documentary The Hunting Ground, which deals with campus rape.

With 2016 presenters and performers including Whoopi Goldberg, Jared Leto, Dev Patel, Sarah Silverman, Sofía Vergara, Kerry Washington, and Pharrell Williams, we can expect to see original fashion selections.  Post photos of your favorite hits and the misses in the comments section below!

Copyright Infringement

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences places strict rules on those who are bestowed the honor, aggressively pursuing anyone who tries to sell the Oscar.  It is part of a broader strategy to protect the Oscar brand by attempting to quell attempts to infringe the Oscar’s copyright and trademark.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the award was protected under federal copyright laws and was not part of the public domain.  “We conclude that the academy’s sleek, muscular gold statuette known as ‘Oscar,’ which is recognized worldwide as a distinctive symbol of outstanding achievement in film … is entitled to protection,” the court said.

The academy won a major legal victory last year when a Los Angeles County judge affirmed an academy rule that prevents any winner (or whoever comes to possess a statuette) from selling the trophy without first offering it to the academy for the sum of $10. Every recipient since 1951 has signed an agreement that gives the academy the right of first refusal.

Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and give us your best Oscar speech – we won’t cut you off with play-off music  – about the following topics: 

  • #OscarsSoWhite
  • Diversity
  • Nominees
  • Presenters
  • Fashion
  • Chris Rock
  • Musical Performances
  • Oscar Parties
  • Oscar Swag


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