Sentiment Spotlight: Gender and Culture in the Oscars

By: Dheepan Ramanan

January 26, 2016

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This year’s Oscar’s are rife with controversy and potential boycotts due to the lack of minority representation in nominations. Predictable as this disappointment was to many, analyzing the past Oscars nominees reveals several other consistent patterns and trends. Overall, our data indicates a strong partiality when it comes to both the gender of directors and the genre of films.

Data scraped from IMDB illustrates that a heavy genre bias prevails when it comes to both the types of films that nominated and the average scores they accumulate. According to the results of the study, 90% of nominated films fall into the Drama category. The second most prevalent genre is the Biopic (biography), which claims 26% of nominees. Comparatively, Sports, Family movies, Musicals, Animation films, and Westerns rarely receive a nod from the academy awards. Moreover, a wide genre gap exists in regards to the base amount of gross theater revenues: to receive an Oscar nomination in a less traditional genre (such as Action), a given film must average close to $290 million at the US Box Office.

Our findings demonstrate that cultural relevance is of critical importance for non-drama genre films to win nominations. This genre discrepancy is also seen with Animated films, which rarely win Oscar nominations. In 2016, the two Animation nominees were both Pixar movies with a US Box Office average of $414 million and boasted an audience score of 98.5% on Rotten Tomatoes. Comparatively, the Drama films selected averaged only $79 million at the US Box Office and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 82% and 81% for critics and audience respectively. The data clearly shows that the Oscar standards for Animation films are much higher than that of Drama films.

Surprisingly, Romance films are the third most common nominated genre, however, most films received comparatively low Box Office revenues and meager approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Not surprisingly, CGI effects and Sex Appeal appear much less often in Oscar winners, averaging 35% and 29% fewer mentions respectively.

In terms of suggestions for marketers, our findings show that Oscar winners have the fewest
mention of trailers of the three groups (Oscar winners, summer blockbusters, and Oscar nominees). A full 5% of summer blockbuster movies mention the trailer in the reviews, compared to 3.1% of Oscar nominees and only 1.8% of Oscar winners. Oscar winners and nominees have nearly identical sentiment in this regard, which leads to the conclusion that a popular trailer is a positive but unimportant influence: as the movie itself is of the utmost importance to reviewers.

Additionally, our data analytics findings shed light on a striking gender bias in the academy awards committee selections in regards to both the films and the directors themselves. Since 2000, only five Oscar-nominated films have had women directors; all other films had male directors. In fact, only the female film director to win the Oscar for Best Picture was The Hurt Locker, (2009) directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Interestingly, IMDB’s database of reviews are dominated by men, and the Oscar winners, in particular, are even more gender-biased. Our data shows that women tend to rate Oscar winners 13% less often than Oscar nominees. Our findings reveal that women view and rate Oscar film winners less often, and even experience lower emotional resonance with the winning films compared to men. These results reflect the bias of the Oscar selection committee, which selects film winners overwhelmingly favored by male audiences. In light of these findings, it seems fitting that the top phrases used on IMDB to describe Oscar nominee film plots are: “death,” “murder,” “slavery,” and “war.”

wordcoudIn many ways, the Oscars are an anachronism. The small and homogenous selection committee harkens back to an era where the tastes of an exclusive group defined popular culture. From these findings and the cultural reaction to the nominations, it’s clear that we need updated standards that define what is “Oscar worthy”.

 


Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.
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