Racist, check. Homophobic, check. Misogynistic, check. It’s Academy Awards season, which means anyone who made a movie catering to the Oscar-bait mentality that does not win one is going to cry cultural foul and invoke one of those three, but they could instead have used a little science modeling and improved their odds of taking home a statue by quite a lot.
Knowing how Hollywood culture works can’t help any of them now, but it can improve their odds for next year. And it can help us do a regression analysis to determine who will win, using what I call the Social Justice Cycle.
In 2007, Pardoe and Simonton published a paper in Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society) showing that if you have valid parameters, you can make pretty good predictions, even in something that should be unpredictable, like how a bunch of people will vote for their favorite movie. In their case, the parameters in their discrete choice model were things like ‘awards beget awards’ – some awards are predictably correlated to other awards over time. Then they did a regression analysis and their multi-nomial logit model took into account the independence of irrelevant alternatives.
Using that same method, we can determine an Oscar winner with startling success, just by predicting what special interests have won in previous years. That can be a road map for future directors and writers.
The Oscars, as they are called, are big prestige, even when they don’t make a lot of money, so no effort is spared to manipulate votes where possible. Everyone knows that, which should make prediction more difficult. It actually does just the opposite, because a Social Justice Cycle regression analysis can factor out irrelevant alternatives. “Selma”, for example, basically challenged the Academy not to give them an award, by making a rather mediocre film that played a little too loose with facts and history but about a topic no one in America can debate, the racial clash in America. “Argo” also reinvented history to create a better story but it was so surprising to have it appear that Ben Affleck could act and that Democrats were not incompetent during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, it took home the prize for those reasons.
“Argo” won and “Selma” will not, and why is entirely predictable.
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