Oscars study: Elite Academy judges are out of touch with moviegoers

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Movies,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Lobbying,Oscars

The elite 5,783 judges who will decide Sunday night's Oscar awards are out of touch with what consumers look for in a movie, often choosing films about activists overcoming oppression instead of Iron Man smashing a tank, according to a new study of the Academy Awards.

“The standards learned and employed by elites who possess significant cultural capital tend to deviate from the standards of consumers with comparatively less cultural capital,” said the UCLA study in the authoritative American Sociological Review.

Put more simply, co-author Gabriel Rossman told Secrets: “Your ordinary person likes to see Iron Man throwing a tank ... whereas the Oscar voters, at least in the capacity of Oscar voters, like to hear a story about some activist overcoming oppression.”

And as Hollywood studios make movies with an eye on winning an Oscar, or nomination, they can sometimes produce films people just don’t like -- but judges might, he added.

“The kinds of things you do to appeal to the Academy aren’t the kinds of things you do to appeal to mass audiences. In fact, they can actively alienate mass audiences unless they get the Oscar nomination,” said Rossman.

But that’s not always a bad thing. Rossman and his co-author Oliver Schilke found that not only is there a balance between the pop and art movies that win awards, but the artsy and technical movies that win nominations and Oscars draw in new audiences that typically would have ignored them, making them profitable.

Leading up to Sunday’s Oscars, for example, there will be people who feel compelled to see many of the nominees, even those that they don’t think they will like. He compared it to people reading up on teams right before a big playoff game.

“It’s almost like rooting for a sports team in the playoffs,” Rossman said. “You want to be knowledgeable about what these teams are like so you can root for them.”

The study looked at past movies with so-called “Oscar appeal.” They found that for many, promoting that Oscar appeal can be very expensive, and a losing venture if no nomination or award is given.

“If you end up not getting an Oscar, you are pretty much screwed,” said Rossman, an associate professor of sociology at UCLA who has written on media and culture.

Putting it into Washington lingo, he said seeking an Oscar is comparable to a firm hiring a lobbying firm to win a new law. It’s expensive and a loss is devastating. “Lobbyists don’t give refunds,” Rossman said.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.