Want to Make Hollywood Pay Attention to Diversity? Boycott the Box Office, Not the Oscars

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Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are planning to boycott this year’s Oscars ceremony because of the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is the first black woman to head the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, issued a statement saying that she was "heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," and that the academy is moving heaven and earth to change the makeup of its membership.


The Oscars boycott is a noble idea, and it’s great that Isaacs is making a real effort to diversify the membership that actually votes for the Academy Awards. But to me, this boycott is hitting Hollywood at the wrong end of the process. If you want to make Hollywood really pay attention to diversity—not just to hire people of color but also to tell other kinds of storie­s—start the boycott at the box office.

Black and brown may not matter to Hollywood, but green does. According to the Motion Picture Association of America’s theatrical market stats for 2014 (pdf), Hispanics—who represent 17 percent of the population—buy 25 percent of movie tickets, the largest of any ethnic group. (The Wrap did a series in 2014 that looked at how Hispanics became Hollywood’s most important audience.) When was the last time you saw a movie with a prominent Hispanic storyline featuring Hispanics in starring roles?

Last year, films featuring African Americans in leading roles topped the box office for five consecutive weeks in August and September, yet Hollywood continues to act surprised by how well those movies do.

I live in New York City, where movie-ticket prices average around $13 to $14. That’s almost two months’ worth of Netflix and chill, which is far more entertaining. And movie tickets aren’t getting any cheaper. Now that TV is starting to really understand that diversity matters (thanks, Shonda!), why would I go out and spend my hard-earned cash on an industry that clearly isn’t interested in telling stories that represent me?

I don’t really need to see another variation on Jurassic World—we get it: Dinosaurs and humans don’t mix—or pay to see a horrible reboot of Point Break when an already s—tty version is available to watch on some TV network that regularly reruns bottom-tier Hollywood movies. I don’t need to see any more movies about white guys overcoming adversity—a prominent feature among the eight movies nominated for best picture this year. The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara wrote that this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated films “are all good stories, powerful, well told and beautifully acted. But in a world filled with billions of people who are not white men, they are certainly not the only good stories, not by a long shot.” #Truth.

I haven’t been to a movie theater since Creed came out in November. And based on this year’s crop of movies, it’ll be a long while before I step into a movie theater again that’s filled with the scent of stale popcorn and even staler movie plots. It’s time to make Hollywood pay for failing to see the value in other people’s stories by not paying to see movies that have value only to them.