Monday, December 20, 2010

Charting Oscar's Age Preferences.

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As an addendum to last week's popular Tribeca Film article on the limited age range of Oscar's taste in Best Actresses and a footnote to the is this Hailee Steinfeld thing really happening (?) gripe,  I thought a few charts were in order to better illustrate the Academy's distinct age biases from category to category. Let's get this totally out of the way so that we can move on to fresher topics. It's like when a song is stuck in your head. The best way to remove it is to just sing it, right?

(These charts would be more interesting with 82 years of nominee statistics as well but I don't have a free month for that much research. That'd be well over 700 birthdays to look up.)

So let's take the male acting winners first, since they were only alluded to in the article.

There is no "most common" single age to win Best Actor but the years between 37 and 45 are especially rich.  46  is the most common age to win Supporting Actor though anytime in your 40s is your best bet.

In that chart you can see that honoring actors near the beginning of their career is anathema to them. They're completely happy to start passing out the gongs once actors have demonstrated their ability for several years and especially in the forty-something years, they are ready to honor the men. More men win during their forties than in any other decade of life (in both categories) and it's easier for senior citizen men to win than anyone under 30. (Adrien Brody is the only male actor to win for lead while in his 20s.)

It's an entirely different story with the women...

29 is the most common age to win Best Actress. It's most common to win Supporting Actress at either 33 or 45 years of age.

With actresses, as aforementioned, it's next to impossible to win the leading statue once you've exited your forties (for various reasons). On rare occassions they will honor a senior diva but no fifty-something ladies, please! (Shirley Booth is the only 50something woman to ever win in the lead category.) They're more forgiving of actresses of any age (yes even prepubescent) in the supporting category, though whether in leading or supporting, more women win during their 30s than in any other decade of life. But after 49 there's not much hope.

And here are the charts combined for comparisons sake.

Does any of it surprise you?

Or maybe this seem completely instinctual as to the kinds of roles and amount of media coverage actors get at the various stages of their career. Either way the gender disparity of Hollywood honors is obvious and disturbing; younger is always better for actresses, while middle age is best for actors though older is still golden.

What does all this mean for this year's Oscars? If you isolate the "age factor" for argument's sake -- one should never isolate any factor other than for argument's sake since all factors work together --  that means the following people are closest to the "right" age to win among the suspected contenders.

Something that you can't see on the charts (since the charts cover ten year spans) further accentuates this. Percentage of wins in all acting categories for people 35 and under:
  • female: 55%
  • male: 14%

Isn't that crazy?
Older is better for men is true even as old as death: Five male actors have been honored posthumously with nominations (2 of them won) and only one woman has been so honored (Jeanne Eagels nominated for The Letter from 1929).

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