Genre Bias and the Oscars
Big Idea: Certain genres are more likely to win Oscar awards than others.
As a horror fan, the Annual Academy Awards, more commonly known as the Oscars, is one of most frustrating times of the year. It’s like watching your favorite football team win the playoffs every year and then never go to the Superbowl. Horror movies like The Shining, Psycho, and Hereditary have gathered massive critical and audience acclaim; yet have not received any attention from the Academy. This has led to many horror fans bitterly remarking that there is a genre bias in the Academy, but is this actually true?
IMdb has both an extensive catalogue of Best Picture winners and also a “Top Movies” list. The “Top Movies” list can be used as a sort of control group to see what films both the public and critics enjoy, which can then be compared to what is actually represented in the Oscars. If there is a large discrepancy, then that indicates bias.
In the graph of Oscar nominees, drama takes a clear majority over any other genre, while in the IMdb graph, genre makes up only around a fifth of the graph. Comedy and adventure are similarly overrepresented while genres like thriller and fantasy are not even represented.
Granted, there are some inconsistencies in the way that genre is classificated between the two graphs. Genre is not a hard category, and it is possible that some of the Oscar nominated films that are labelled under a broad genre, such as drama could also be labelled as horror or science fiction as well. Yet more data gained from Filmsite catalogues individual films based on their genre and nominations, and notes that science fiction, horror, and especially fantasy films are among the least recognized by the Academy.
Beyond my own personal gripes, this has wider implications. The Academy Awards are an important cultural establishment and set the standards of what a “good” movie is. Genre is more than a classification tool, it also signifies what themes and story elements are present in a film. If certain genres are more likely to be celebrated than others, than it creates the idea that certain themes and elements are low brow. During the past decade, we have started to become more and more aware of the lack of minority and female representation when it comes to Oscar nominations and awards. I believe that we should also consider how genre and what themes in a film are considered worthy of celebration into this conversation.
Although there appears to be a genre bias in Academy Award nominations and wins, change is on the horizon. Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele and released in 2018, gained 4 nominations and won Best Original Screenplay, the first ever horror film to do so. According to Kevin O’Keefe at Backstage Magazine “the Oscar tides are changing. It’s slow, but you can see the movements. Soon enough, genre bias among Academy voters may be a thing of the past.”
While I may still be a little salty that my favorite movies will never be recognized, I’m confident that the next great horror movie will.