For those who aspire to win an Oscar, it is best to be a US actor in a film that portrays the American culture, according to a new study. Researchers at University of Queensland in Australia conducted a large-scale analysis of the distribution of the Academy Awards for best actor and actress in a leading role by the Los Angeles-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars) as well as by the London-based British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs) since 1968.
They covered a total of 908 merit prize winners, comprising 97 winners and 383 (unsuccessful) nominees for the Oscars and 97 winners and 331 (unsuccessful) nominees for the BAFTAs.
Both awards state that they aim to recognise best performances in films from all over the world. The results show that US actors dominated the awards, winning more than 50 per cent of all prizes across Oscars and BAFTAs. Nevertheless, actors were more likely to win if they shared social group membership with the judges.
This meant that American actors won 52 per cent of all BAFTAs but 69 per cent of all Oscars, while British actors won 18 per cent of all Oscars but 34 per cent of all BAFTAs.
“We know a lot about the factors that increase people’s capacity to show exceptional performances,” said Niklas K Steffens from the School of Psychology. “However, a somewhat different question is what makes a given creative performance likely to be seen as exceptional. This was the question we addressed in this research,” Steffens said.
“These results show that whether we see a given performance as extraordinary is not just a function of the objective quality of that performance. For perceivers are much more likely to recognise a performance as truly brilliant when perceivers and performers share membership in a social group,” said Steffens.
The data also showed that nationality made a difference to actually winning an award. For the Oscars, American actors received 67 per cent of all nominations but 78 per cent of all awards. The same held true for the BAFTAs, where British actors won 31 per cent of
all nominations but 42 per cent of all awards.
“Shared social group membership becomes even more important when the diagnostic value of a quality indicator increases – that is, when we establish whether something is not just excellent but outstanding,” Steffens said. “In this case, American actors win two out of three of
all Oscar nominations but almost four out of five of all Oscar awards,” he said.
Another important determinant of success was the subject matter of the film. In the Oscars, American artists accounted for 26 per cent of award winners whose performance was in films about non-US culture but for 88 per cent of award winners whose performance was in films about American culture.
‘”There is a widespread belief that our perception of makes a creation original and outstanding is given by its objective qualities, but in fact it is heavily influenced by the social groups we are members of, and which provide the basis for making sense of the world,” Steffens added.
The study was published in the British Journal of Psychology.