Some will thank their families, some will thank their agents, and some will thank God, but every winner at Hollywood’s main event Sunday will thank the academy in their Oscar acceptance speeches. So, who exactly makes up the mysterious (and now scrutinized) voting body behind the coveted film-biz awards?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, founded in 1927, is an organization of more than 7,000 accomplished filmmakers and film professionals. In addition to the annual Academy Awards, the group is involved in educating up-and-coming filmmakers, film preservation and community outreach.
Until this year, membership did not expire, even for those who were no longer active in the industry. But a January 2016 change to academy rules to address the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees and the academy body now mandates that members who have not been active in the last 10 years be stripped of their voting status. The academy also is vowing to seek out new members from underrepresented groups instead of relying on the recommendations of current members.
To become a member of the academy, you must be invited by the board of governors. These reviews occur once a year; the deadline this year is March 29. Besides being accomplished in film, a prospective member must be approved by the executive committee of the appropriate branch of the academy. There are 17 branches ranging from directing and acting to public relations. Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) is the head of the actors branch while Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) heads the directors branch. Of course, receiving an Oscar nomination in any category is virtually a guarantee of being invited into the academy.
Nominees for each category are selected by votes from members of the corresponding branches — for example, only actors vote to nominate actors in acting categories. However, all members vote to nominate films for the Best Picture category. After the nominations are announced, the full body of the academy votes for the winners of every category via paper and online ballots.
A win at the Oscars is very much a show of recognition from one’s peers, and considering the long process involved in selecting the lucky recipients, it is no wonder the winners are so grateful. The 88th annual Academy Awards will air this Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.