A Number Cruncher's Look At Oscar's Woman Problem

Feb 28 2014, 2:35pm CST | by

A Number Cruncher's Look At Oscar's Woman Problem
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

At first glance, it’s hard to see how the Oscars don’t equally represent the most successful men and women in Hollywood. There are just as many acting categories for men as there are for women so the same number get awards.

But Amelia Showalter over at Newsweek used numbers to find a very different story. Showalter is a quantitative political consultant who was the director of digital analytics at  President Obama’s re-election campaign. She’s a numbers-first kind of wonk.

She used her analytic skills to look at 80 years of acting nominations and films up for Best Picture to see if any patterns emerged. She found that there’s a double standard when it comes to movies focused on women instead of men. Female-centric movies may net acting nominations but they don’t usually earn Best Picture nods. In other words, a woman is more likely than a man to earn an acting nomination for a movie that didn’t make the Best Picture cut.

To take a closer look at the problem Showalter focused on movies that were nominated for Best Picture but either only had female acting nomination or only had male acting nominations. She found 7% of the female-skewing films won Best Picture while 20% of the male-skewing films won the biggest prize.

Of films that had multiple actress nominations, 44 failed to also earn Best Picture nominations. You can see that pattern this year too. Both Blue Jasmine and August: Osage County earned two acting nods each (for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress) but neither film was nominated for Best Picture. To add insult to injury to that statistic, only nine films were nominated for Best Picture. Today’s Academy rules allow for 10 Best Picture nominees if the movies earn enough votes.

Sadly, this analysis is mostly a reflection of what’s happening in Hollywood at large. There is less money out there for movies that are seen as female-centric so fewer get made and fewer end up in the top ranks at Oscar time. Once a movie has been nominated, it’s in the hands of a group of 6,000-odd voters who the Los Angeles Times has shown are overwhelmingly white and male. So Argo beats Zero Dark Thirty. The Departed beats The Queen and Gladiator beats Erin Brockovich.

In the above examples, we could argue all day about which of those films were actually better. But what Showalter has shown, from a completely objective point of view, is that there is a very serious bias towards male-themed films.

How can this change? For one thing, the Academy could invite a lot more women to become voters. But there also needs to be more female directors and more women holding the purse strings at the top. Earlier this week a group of professors from USC’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative wrote a guest post for my blog where they talked about this problem. From their article:

For those who are impatient for change or unhappy with simply raising awareness, there are procedural solutions to these representational issues. Transparent decision-making practices surrounding hiring are a first step toward change. … Studios, production companies, or agencies developing and packaging films could elect to require that women and people of color are at minimum considered for open directing jobs. Diversity can become part of the fabric of decision-making at the earliest stages of a movie’s lifecycle.

Follow me on Twitter at DorothyatForbes.

Join us live tweeting the Oscars Sunday night at #ForbesOscars

Most Profitable Oscar movies

Source: Forbes Business


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