Oscar mystery solved: Does playing a real-life person give you an edge?

This year’s four Oscar frontrunners for acting — Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”, Viola Davis (“Fences”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) — all play fictional characters. Is that a fact worth noting, or does it happen all the time? Below is a chart of the last 10 winners in each acting category. The names highlighted in green signify a fictional role, while red signifies a real-life person.

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Oscars acting winners 2006 - 2016

As you can see:

Of the most recent 40 acting winners across all four categories, 17 won for portraying real-life people while 23 won for playing fictional roles.

Only three of the past 10 Best Actor champs won for fictional roles. Compare that to six of the Best Actress winners and seven in each of the supporting categories.

The lead categories have matched up only once in the past decade, in 2007 when Whitaker and Mirren prevailed for portraying Idi Amin and Queen Elizabeth II respectively. However, the supporting categories have always correlated; it’s either both winning for fictional roles or both for real-life people.

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What does this mean for this year’s Oscars? It certainly solidifies the frontrunner status of Davis and Ali in the supporting categories as they both play fictional characters. And it is a boost for Stone in Best Actress as she too has a fictional role.

Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) is the only Best Actor nominee who portrays a real-life person (WWII army medic Desmond T. Doss). However, he is ranked only fourth by our Oscar experts behind three fellows who play fictional parts: Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”). So it looks like the lead categories will line up for the first time in 11 years.

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