Research & Insights

By Justin Tenuto, February 14, 2015

The Unchanging Demographics of the Academy Awards

 

Hollywood’s annual festival of complicated formalwear and golden-bald-guy statues is finally upon us. Yes gang, we’re a week away from the Academy Awards, that special time of year when we’ll spend several hours watching famous people reward famous people for being better at pretending than other famous people. 

Hosted by Doogie Howser and headlined by probably-going-to-win-everything Birdman, this year’s Oscars have been overshadowed by diversity concerns. (Namely: for the third time since 1995, there are only white folks nominated for the four major acting categories.) And that got us thinking: just what do the demographics of Oscar winners actually look like? What country produces the most winners? What race are they? Was this year’s crop of nominees actually an anomaly?

Well, as an answer to that last question: not really.

In other words, we really shouldn’t act all that surprised. This year’s winners will be like 93% of all the past winners.

A Quick Note About the Data

We’re looking at all the winners of the major 5 awards since the Oscars began in the late 1920’s. That means all the Best Actor/Supporting Actor, Actress/Supporting Actress, and Director awards. Our friends from Silk helped us visualize all the information in this job—including the pie chart above and the donut and bar graphs belowso we’d like to send a hearty thanks their way. Each visualization is interactive, so feel free to click around, mix-and-match, and make your own connections.

We pulled our information from a biographical database and farmed that data out to a crowd of contributors. We asked them to help us with a categorization job, noting the demographic details of each winner for the above five awards; the job took us about an hour, total.

Ok. Let’s dig in.

Let’s Get Cartographical

While American dominance at the Oscars has been trending downwards since the beginning of the millennium, Americans have won about 65% of all major Academy Awards since they began in 1928. In other words: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

That’s right. We’ve won 271 of these statuettes. Take THAT, Canary Islands.

Now, it’s probably not particularly shocking that California produces more winners than any other state. Growing up in the shadow of Hollywood will do that for you. But, if you had to take a guess which state contributed the second largest amount of winners, what would it be? New York, home to Jane Fonda, Oliver Stone, and malignant street sausages? Texas, home to Joan Crawford, Matthew McConaughey, and America’s largest hats?

Neither guess would be correct, unfortunately. In fact, the state that’s produced the second-most Oscar winners is Illinois.

Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Frances McDormand (Fargo), and Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), for example, were all born in Illinois. New York does in fact come in third, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Missouri.

(And yes, Missouri surprised us too. Ginger Rodgers and John Huston, among others, hail from the Show-Me-State.)

Outliers and Other Errata

There’s plenty more data to poke around in on our Silk page (including a pretty slick world map), including demographics about age, sexual orientation, multiple winners, and more. Here are a few things that stuck out to us:

  • Christopher Plummer is the oldest Oscar winner on record, accepting his statue at age 82 for Beginners.
  • In another victory for the AARP set, Clint Eastwood won Best Director twice when he was over 60.
  • John Ford and Katherine Hepburn are the only four time winners, for Best Director and Best Actress, respectively.
  • That joke about the Canary Islands? Well, Javier Bardem was born there, so they’ve got one more winner than China, Brazil, or Poland.
  • Piggybacking on the above: astonishingly, NO Oscar winners, ever, in any of the major five awards, were born in South America. The only other continent that shares that distinction is Antarctica, though penguins are rather tremendous, so it’s probably only a matter of time.