The Oscar Project
I mentioned in my four-month summary post <post link> the other day, that I had something in the works focused on the diversity of movies I have been watching this year, and today I want to share that with you.
Now, let me start off by telling you what this post ISN’T about. This is not a post that is intended to say that I’m better than you because I watch a different kind of movie. I’m not trying to make anyone feel “less than” because of what I’m going to cover. It should not be taken as a grand manifesto on the status of diversity in the film industry at any time past, present, or future.
This post is mainly intended as a personal reflection on my own viewing habits and the new fertile ground I have unearthed through my movie viewing this year.
So where did this come from?
For a long time, I have considered myself a movie fan and if you look at the post history on this page, you can see I’ve been running this site for over five years. My original intent was to watch every Oscar nominee in history, and chronicle my journey along the way. Through the intervening years, I’ve gone on several tangents, from writing weekly “Nominee Watch” posts (which have morphed into the Weekly Previews of today), to starting a podcast, making YouTube videos, and most recently, taking on some great writers to help write reviews.
Around the same time that I started this site, I joined two movie tracking websites to help me remember the movies I watch. The first was Trakt and there are a few things I like about this site. Not only does it allow me to track the movies I watch, but I can also log individual episodes of most TV shows as well. I can use that to see if I’m focusing more on movies or TV at any given time. Trakt also allows me to rate films on a 1-10 scale like I do for reviews on the site.
The second site I joined in 2018 was Letterboxd. This site is much more focused on films (though it does include limited series) and allows more involved stats about my viewing. This is where the idea for this post came from.
Looking back, I doubt that I’ve marked every film I’ve ever seen as watched on Letterboxd, but I’ve gone back and flagged as many as possible that I know I’ve watched. When I bumped up to a Pro membership on Letterboxd in 2021, I got access to some incredible stats about the movies I’ve watched and that’s what I want to share here. Fair warning, there will be quite a bit of numbers and some basic percentage math through the rest of the post. You’ve been warned.
Letterboxd includes tons of statistics about the movies you’ve watched, and you can look at them for all time, or year by year. I’m going to focus in on two areas of the Letterboxd stats: Most Watched Directors and Most Watched Stars.
Most Watched Directors
Let’s start with Most Watched Directors. There have been plenty of words written about the lack of female directors and non-white directors in the nominations for things like the Academy Awards in recent years, and it’s true. According to Wikipedia, 467 nominations have been handed out to 74 directors (or directing teams) for the Academy Award for Best Director. That means that in 95 years there have been:
I wish I could say I was much better than this in my own viewing habits, but according to my Letterboxd data, I’m even worse. The top 20 directors I’ve watched the most all fall into the white men category. In fact, the majority are American (65%) with the rest coming from the UK (25%), Canada (5%), and New Zealand (5%).
Now, I don’t have an exact comparison for this year because only one director appears on my most watched list, but my highest rated directors of the year tell a somewhat different story so far. While I’m not to the point I’d like to be, I do have three female directors in my top 20 highest rated, along with six directors of color. I also have a wider range of voices from around the world including Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, India, Italy, and Japan. Granted, Americans still make up the majority of the list, but the overall range this year is much wider than my overall history.
Most Watched Stars
Moving on to the actors in movies, I decided to look at the top 20 most watched for my overall history and compare it to 2023. These aren’t prefect comparisons because there are 20 actors on my all-time list, and only 15 on my top most watched for this year so far, but the story is already telling.
Among my all-time most watched actors, the ones who appear at the top are there for a few reasons. Tom Hanks is at the top because, well, he’s Tom Hanks. I didn’t realize I’d watched so many of his films, but I guess I have. Names like Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans land on the list because they’ve been in so many Marvel films. Similarly, Anthony Daniels, James Earl Jones, and Warwick Davis show up for their many Star Wars roles and Harrison Ford gets a bonus for being in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Lastly, John Ratzenberger and Bonnie Hunt both land near the top of the list because they have cameos in so many Pixar movies. So given the fact that so many of these actors come from a few franchises, it’s actually interesting that 20% of the list is female and 25% actors of color. That said, it was still 80% American with the rest coming from Australia, Britain, and Nigeria (by way of Hugo Weaving who I found out was actually born in Nigeria, but to British parents).
Like the directors, my watching habits have gotten a bit more diverse in 2023, but not anywhere close to being an even spread. My female actors have increased to 33%, but that’s only one more (5) than overall (4). In terms of actors of color, the pendulum actually swung in favor of non-white actors. The fact that I struggled to categorize some of the actors this time around also speaks to the fact that it is more diverse. Finally, just like directors, the overall spread of nationalities has almost doubled to include India, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Germany. However, just like with directors, American actors still hold the majority (53%).
What does all this mean?
I wrote at the end of my 4 month recap post that I’ve expanded my selection of films, not just because of the 52 week challenge I’m doing this year, but also because of two fantastic Discord groups I’m a part of. I actually credit those groups of the movie roulette challenges with most of the diversity in my viewing this year.
I know a lot of casual movie fans shy away from films from outside the US or UK, but there truly is an incredibly diverse world of cinema out there if you just give things a chance. My favorite movie of the year so far is Parasite, a foreign film which ended up winning Best Picture (among other awards) at the Oscars a few years ago. I’ve watched foreign films like 8 ½, and Nosferatu for my challenge, but from my roulette groups I’ve received recommendations for Harakiri from Japan, The Lunchbox and A Death in the Gunj from India, and Memoirs of a Sinner from Poland.
However, one thing seems to never change. Despite the fact that Irrfan Khan is one of my two most watched actors in 2023 (with three films so far), my other top actor is Tom Hanks (also with three films). Apparently, I just REALLY like Tom Hanks films and can’t get enough of him, no matter what year it is.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?