Actress Annette Bening heads the branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that chooses the acting category nominees at the Oscars. Reuters

Some will thank their families, some will thank their agents and some will thank God, but every winner at the Oscars on Sunday will thank the Academy in their speeches. So, who exactly is this mysterious voting body behind the selection of the winners of the coveted awards?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an organization of more than 7,000 accomplished filmmakers and film professionals; membership doesn't expire, even for those who are no longer active in the industry. In addition to the annual Academy Awards, the group is involved in educating up-and-coming filmmakers, film preservation and community outreach.

To become a member of the Academy you must be invited in by the Board of Governors. An existing member may submit a name for consideration by the board. 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. But 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 87th Annual Academy Awards will air this Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.

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