Oscar Winners Are Even Easier to Predict Than You Think, Study Says

When it comes to diversity, Academy Members are living in La La Land.

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Feb 21 2017, 10:00pm

Photo courtesty of Ivan Bandura via Wikimedia Commons

As long as you're an American actor in American film about a facet of American culture that resonates with old, white men, the chances of clutching an Oscar to your American bosom is firmly within your grasp, according to a new study by the University of Queensland in Australia.

The study, which was published in the British Journal of Psychology, found American actors are the cats who get the cream, winning two out of three of all Oscar nominations, and almost four out of five of the total Oscar awards. It also found that American actors have taken home 69 percent of all Oscars since 1968—and more than half of all the awards across the Oscars and the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).

Read More: Meet the Woman who Started #OscarsSoWhite

Films about American culture were most likely to hit gold: In the Oscars, 88 percent of American award winners won in their category for performances in films about American culture. Just 26 percent of American actors won awards for films not about America.

Lead researcher Dr. Niklas Steffens says his findings contradict claims that the awards recognize the best performances in films from all over the world. "The results show that the recognition of creative performance in the Oscars and BAFTA awards... is strongly shaped by shared social group membership between judges and performers," he tells Broadly. In other words, if the people judging your performance are of the same nationality and social group to you, you're more likely to end up with a gold statue on your mantelpiece.

Last year, for the second year in a row, every contender for the 20 acting awards was white, and multiple films with black leads or predominantly black casts were overlooked for the best picture category. Many critics were quick to note that the Academy demographics skew overwhelmingly white, male, and old, prompting a spate of social media protests and boycotts.

Dr. Steffens notes that this is, unfortunately, still the case. In January of 2016, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs added 683 new members—46 percent of whom were female and 41 percent of whom were people of color—to the judging pool as a way to diversify the academy. However, the Academy, which is 6000-plus members strong, remains predominantly white, male, and American.

As long as Academy membership is skewed in this way, Dr. Steffens says, we will continue to see the same trends unfold, with the same sorts of films getting recognized year after year. "It's American actors and actors who perform in movies about American in-group culture that are particularly likely to be recognized," he states. "This means that, as much as it may matter who is performing and in what roles they are performing, it also matters who is evaluating... the majority of members being white, American men."

To wit: Oscar frontrunner La La Land, an American film about white people living in Los Angeles, received a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations and is expected to almost clean sweep Hollywood's night of nights. Still, there's a glimmer of hope that the Academy's annual tradition of awarding movies about white Americans may change—a study recently conducted by The Wrap found that Barry Jenkin's critically-acclaimed Moonlight has garnered more top film awards than the California-set movie musical.