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Oscar newcomers benefit from lower expectations

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Gillian Smith

The 92nd Academy Awards will take place this Sunday, Feb. 9. While industry newcomers may feel as though the awards are beyond their reach, research shows simply exceeding expectations may be key to their Oscar success. 


Heeyon Kim

Heeyon Kim

Assistant Professor of Strategy at the School of Hotel Administration, management and organization area faculty member in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Heeyon Kim, assistant professor of strategy and management and organization at Cornell University, studies how social status, reputation and market identity affect the behavior of people in creative industries. In her new research, Kim found that aspiring directors do not need to outperform industry giants in order to build their own reputations or win awards at the highest level. They simply need to outperform their peers.

Kim says:

“People tend to compare a director’s performance relative to similar peers, as baseline expectations are set differently. For example, people have different expectations towards a well-known veteran such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino compared to someone who is relatively unknown in the U.S. like Bon Joon Ho, even though he is a big name in South Korea. This could work in favor of Bong, as his film ‘Parasite’ exceeded people’s expectations, whereas most would expect Scorsese and Tarantino to make a great film.

“At the same time, evaluating the ‘quality’ of a film is highly subjective and depends on individuals’ idiosyncratic tastes. The Oscars have long been criticized for its lack of diversity. Given the composition of the voting body, the lack of vote for non-Caucasian or female directors is not surprising.”


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