Who is the “Academy?”

26 Feb

Every year millions of people tune in on a Sunday night in February to watch the Academy Awards present “Oscars” or “Best in….” awards to actors, directors, producers, and other creative talent for delivering the highest achievement in cinema.

But not many are aware of what The Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences is, the organization that owns the Oscars and are responsible for the membership of the academy.

Since 1927, this originally humble group of 36 members has grown to about 5,000+ today. To become a member of this organization, you have to be invited by the academy’s Board of Governors. “A candidate must be sponsored by at least two members of the branch for which the person may qualify. Each proposed member must first receive the endorsement of the branch’s executive committee before his/her name is submitted to the Board.” (Oscars.org)

So, there are a lot of famous artists in the film industry that you might recognize who are a part of this academy, such as Jennifer Hudson, Michelle Williams, Wes Studi, director Christopher Nolan, musician Bono and many more. And that means that the judges of those prestigious golden statues are everyone’s peers, unlike critics in the Hollywood Foreign Press who present the Golden Globes. The Academy however does not list on its official website a full list of its members, only a handful of samples for each group of artists or categories.

How does a film get nominated? According to the film’s official website, a film must open within a January 1 – December 31 calendar year in Los Angles county, CA (unless the entry is a foreign film) and be at least 40 minutes in length (or the film is submitted as a short film). The studio that owns the film usually submits its film, cast and crew in for consideration of nomination in a certain category. After ballots are distributed and gathered for a tally of the votes, a private firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers in this case, secretly counts all the votes. Nominations are then announced in early January followed by the spectacle television broadcast in February.

While this is a just a basic outline of the many rules and procedures that run the Academy, it appears to be a tightly controlled system so the nominations and awards are appropriately handled.

But while watching NBC Nightly News recently, I came across a segment that examined who the members of the Academy were. They explained that the Los Angeles Times uncovered recently that the Academy is 93% white and 77% male with the median age at 62. It was also revealed that 98% of the screenwriters are white and 97% of cinematographers are men. And membership is for a lifetime. Does that mean that the Oscars for Best Picture, Actress, Actor, etc. are determined by an elite group in Hollywood? Some might question then how slowly change comes for the Oscars to become a diverse body of members.

But change is slowly coming. There are more internships, grants offered by the Academy to promote a range of diversity in film and actors like Alfre Woodward are trying to round up more people from different backgrounds in the film industry to encourage them to become sponsored by a member of the organization to become a member.

What we will always question though is how close the votes were for determining the winner of an award. For example, I still wonder to this day how many more votes did Brokeback Mountain needed to receive the award for Best Picture when it lost it to Crash. Though the votes may not always reflect the current diversity and landscape of the American people, at least it continues to intrigue us about the magic of Hollywood and provides us projects that entertain or inspire us or call us to action (thank a well made documentary or biographical film for that).

Watch the Oscars tonight on your local ABC channel at 7:00 pm EST/4:00 pm PST.

To learn more about the Academy, visit oscars.org — for more information about the 84th Academy Awards, go to oscar.com (an ABC channel website dedicated to this event).

A review of the 84th Annual Academy Awards will follow the next day.



One Response to “Who is the “Academy?””

  1. therothwoman February 28, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Very informative! I honestly didn’t know any of that stuff about the statistics, but in a sad way it really doesn’t surprise me that the vast majority of the Academy is made up of older (probably heterosexual) white men. Hopefully with new generations coming in we’ll see a shift in that at some point in the future.

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