A Vox video which explains the Oscar's voting process.
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 La La Land has been widely criticized by critics.
2 Instant runoff voting is also known as preferential voting.
3 With the instant runoff voting system the members of the academy vote for only one film.
4 The film with 51% of votes is the winner.
5 In 2011 The King’s Speech won the Oscar award, despite the fact that it was considered a weak film.
6 Movies about the movies have won the Oscar award for best film in half of the years since the instant runoff voting system was set up.
7 Crash was the first film to win best picture with the instant runoff voting system.
8 Goodnight, and good luck didn't win because of the instant runoff voting system.
This year a grand technicolour film about showbiz is a favourite for best picture at the Oscars. Yes, it was well regarded amongst critics and audiences around the country. But is La La Land hands down the best film of the year? Is it good enough to beat out films like Moonlight that are widely considered more daring and unique? History says yes, because the Oscar voting process favours mediocrity.
Back in 2009 the Academy switched from a straight popular vote to instant runoff voting or preferential voting. The Academy wanted to better ensure that the film with the broadest support won. But the other side of that coin is that bold, polarizing films get pushed to the side.
At its most basic level, instant runoff voting involves ranking a number of choices rather than choosing just one. Then the choice with the fewest votes is removed. And then those who voted for that candidate have their votes counted according to their second-favourite candidate. Then the candidate that now has the fewest votes is removed, and so on. It goes all the way until a candidate has 50% plus one of the vote. This applies to both the nominations process, although that does get a little weedy, and the process of selecting the best picture winner.
So, how would instant runoff voting ultimately play out in a real scenario? Let’s look at 2011 where the King’s Speech beat out 127 hours, The Fighter, Black Swan, Winter's Bone, True Grit, Inception, The Social Network, and The Kids are Alright. All these films were probably first place picks on a lot of ballots and dead last on others. It’s very possible that the passionate fan bases of each of these films all had the King’s Speech ranked second or third. When their first place vote wasn’t enough to stay in the game, their second place votes were counted and re-added to the mix, ultimately allowing The King’s Speech to come from behind. Because the King’s Speech had the broadest support rather than the most passionate support, it took home the prize.
The new voting system seems to favour a certain type of film.
We’ve had instant runoff voting at the Oscars for six years and fully half of those years have been won by movies about the movies. And I would count the King’s Speech as being sort of adjacent to that. The King’s Speech is about giving training in speech and elocution and all things that actors have to go through.
Think Birdman, Argo, The Artist. The Academy is made of 6,687 film industry professionals who probably enjoy movies about themselves. They might not rank a film about showbiz as number one but many might place it second or third, which is precisely where it's most dangerous. In 2005, before instant runoff voting was instituted, Crash won best picture.
It’s a film people either despise or love.
I think we really want those movies that inspire extreme reactions one way or the other. Sometimes the movie wins that you hate but sometimes the movie wins that you love. I’d rather see that than a movie that everyone was kind of okay with.
In fact, Crash beat out a film that might have easily have won in today's instant runoff system, a period film about entertainment, directed by Hollywood royalty, George Clooney.
Goodnight, and good luck.
1F 2T 3F 4F 5F 6T 7F 8F