Academy Awards

02.27.14

Oscar Bias Is in the Numbers

Women-centric stories are snubbed, big time.

Do the Academy Awards have a "woman problem"? The short answer is—yes, clearly. But data analyst Amelia Showalter decided to skip the think piece flurry and look at the numbers. Her findings are bleak. Not only does the Academy undervalue women, but the public’s own conception of good filmmaking may be undervaluing women's stories. Showalter took data from the Academy's past winners, focusing specifically on nominations and wins for best actor, actress, and film. Her numbers revealed that the Academy is less likely to nominate a film for Best Picture if it includes a female-heavy cast, even if that cast receives individual nominations. Films helmed with a female cast—and therefore likely featuring female-driven stories—by and large do not take home Best Picture. Women's stories overall seem to get snubbed. Consider this statistic: close to twice as many actors than actresses were nominated for films that ended up winning Best Picture. In other words, when a movie is perceived as high quality, male actors often take the recognition. In fact, of 146 male-centric nominees (which Showalter defines as movies which received only Best Actor nominations, and no Best Actress noms) 30 percent of these films went on to win the big prize. That rate is nearly triple compared to female-centric films. Showalter's research suggests that the Academy—with an already very biased voting base—isn’t the only one that’s discriminating, and the problem may lie in our cultural conception of what is “award-worthy” filmmaking and why women’s stories rarely fall into this category. Instead of picking apart each year’s nominees, Showalter suggests we take a step back and ask ourselves: "What makes a good film?"