If you suspect that Hollywood has always been male-centric, there’s more evidence (not that there was ever much doubt). A new Emerson College study shows that, for 92 years, the Oscar-winning best picture has been almost twice as likely to include nominated male actors (lead and supporting) than female.
The study, called “Oscar is a Man: Sexism and the Academy Awards,” found that the best-picture winners, from the 1927-28 season through 2019, included 124 nominated performances by men, but only 72 for women, which is 58% of the male tallies.
There are many statistics offered. Some highlighted numbers: Lead actor nominees in the best pic winner, 62 (including 27 winners); supporting actor nominees, also 62 (with 17 winners); lead actress nominees, 31 (including 12 winners); supporting actress nominees, 41 (including 13 winners).
Though the study centers on the Academy Awards, it’s fundamentally about the links — and gaps — among money, talent and gender in Hollywood. Sexism has a long tradition in the industry, and the study analyzes factors that led to this; it concludes that the dissolution of the old studio system ultimately hurt women more than men.
“Our findings indicate that Oscar is a man,” says Kenneth Grout, exec in residence in Emerson’s department of communications studies. “However, the number of nominees and winners among actors and actresses for best picture in the last three years is trending in the right direction, with three for men and two for women.”
The 2019 winner, “Parasite,” earned no acting nominations. Before that were “The Shape of Water” (2017, with nominees Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) and “Green Book” (2018, with Viggo Mortensen and eventual winner Mahershala Ali).
Emerson senior lecturer Owen Eagan adds, “This study is consistent with many other indicators regarding gender inequity in Hollywood, such as the gender pay gap. Since this isn’t a question about talent or marketability, this progress can only be achieved through systemic change.”
Eagan knows the territory: He has written the comprehensive and insightful “Oscar Buzz and the Influence of Word of Mouth on Movie Success” (Palgrave Macmillan), which treats Oscar as a prism for power and money in Hollywood.
The “Oscar Is a Man” study was published in Trípodos, a publication of Blanquerna U. in Barcelona, which is Emerson College’s strategic partner in Europe.