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Oscars see bump in African-American viewership on historic night

Data from the TV tracking company Nielsen showed a 20 percent uptick among African-Americans aged 18 to 49.
Image: 91st Annual Academy Awards - Backstage
Ruth E. Carter won best costume design for "Black Panther" at the Academy Awards on Sunday in Hollywood.Matt Sayles / A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

The number of African-Americans who watched the Oscars jumped this year, as audiences saw some history-making firsts for black nominees.

Director Spike Lee took home his first competitive Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” Ruth E. Carter won for her costume design, as did Hannah Beachler for production design on “Black Panther,” making them the first African-Americans to win in those categories. The best supporting actor and actress categories were both won by black performers: Mahershala Ali for “Green Book” and Regina King for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Data from the TV tracking company Nielsen showed a 20 percent uptick in Oscars viewing by African-Americans in the advertiser-friendly demographic of people aged 18 to 49 compared to 2018, attracting 1.2 million people who identified the head of their household as black.

Tambay Obenson, who writes about black films for Indiewire, noted the 2019 ceremony featured the second-most black nominees in Oscar history.

“There was likely also some anticipation among black audiences that there would be historic wins, which probably fed interest in tuning in,” Obenson said.

Overall, the Oscars were the second-lowest rated in history, with 29.6 million viewers. Last year's awards were the lowest rated ever, with 26.5 million viewers.

Nielsen noted that total viewership among African-Americans rose to 2.4 million, up from 2.1 million people in 2018. That number still lagged the 2.9 million African-Americans who tuned in for the 2017 awards, when “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age movie about a young black gay man in Miami, won best picture.

Hispanic and white audiences also grew by 10 percent versus last year, while Asian American audiences were flat year-on-year.

The media consultant and ratings analyst Brad Adgate noted that the Oscars reflected the box-office success of numerous movies that featured predominantly African-American casts.

“There were several movies nominated that had a predominant African-American cast or storyline including ‘Black Panther,’ the third-highest grossing movie ever in North America,” Adgate said.