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What Comments About Oscar® Movies Reveal

Posted by Steve Roy on February 19, 2015

Yesterday, we published our findings from studying comments related to Oscar® nominated films. We couldn’t cover all that we discovered in one post. This next batch of findings looks at what surprised us and drove discussions in interesting ways.

Hollywood Is Still a Man’s World

When we were crawling the Disqus network for comments related to the Oscars, the algorithm looked for a wide variety of language that could in any way be related to receiving (or failing to receive) an award. Specifically it looked for key phrases, connecting a verb like "earned", "received," "gets", "takes", "wins" with an object like "the award" or "oscar" or “best actor” or "best actress." We used this to develop a score for how optimistic Disqus commenters were about a particular film or person winning an award.  

What really stood out was that people were 5 times more likely to have an opinion about best actor than best actress. This is evidence that the debate about whether Hollywood has a male bias extends to the broader public as well.

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Politics and Celebrities Go Hand in Hand

American Sniper dominated discussion across Disqus about awards seasons. The vast majority of this discussion was connected to the political debate surrounding the film’s portrayal of the Iraq war and the politics of its director Clint Eastwood. In many ways, the debate surrounding the film mirrored the debate that persists about America’s role in the Middle East as well as our treatment of returning war veterans.

The single most upvoted comment that we found in all our Oscars research sums this up well:

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But the vast majority of the most-upvoted American Sniper comments contained the name of celebrities like Michael Moore, Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Seth Rogen, Howard Dean or Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL whose autobiography was the basis for the film. In particular, reactions to Michael Moore’s remarks “we were taught snipers were cowards” drove the most comment voting activity across Disqus.  

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Commenters Respect “Mr. Eastwood”

In the case of Clint Eastwood, there was an interesting pattern in the naming convention: commenters referred to him as "Mr. Eastwood" dozens of times; journalists never did once.

There were 36 instances of the exact phrase "Mr. Eastwood" within user posts. Contrast this with zero occurrences of "Mr. Eastwood" in the main body text of 1,474 articles about American Sniper.

Perhaps commenters in these discussions were older? Or maybe they’ve just seen Dirty Harry a few too many times.

The Selma Snub: More Personal for Commenters

Selma commenting was dominated by the real or perceived question of snubbing of the film in the Oscar nominations. David Oyelowo did not receive a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ava DuVernay did not receive a Best Director nomination, despite both receiving Golden Globe nominations. The very word "snub" occurs far more in Selma articles than for any other film (16% of all Selma articles, compared to just 2% for all the other movies.)

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Yet, how journalists covered the nominations received by the film Selma differed most dramatically with how commenters perceived it. Russell Simmons was an outspoken critic of the Academy and he was mentioned 28 times more often in comments than in news articles. Journalists on the other hand, mentioned the portrayal of LBJ in Selma 75 times more often than commenters. Finally, as part of their defense of Selma, commenters made comparisons between Selma and JFK the film 14 more times than bloggers and journalists did.  (Typically, Best Picture films also receive acting and directing nominations as JFK did. Selma did not.)

Let us know what you think in the comments below. And enjoy Oscar night on Sunday!

Note: If you haven't read the first part of our Oscars research findings, you can find it here. If you're interested in learning more about Disqus data, head over to our Data Services page.