Who are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science?
It’s awards season in Hollywood and we’re taking a look at who exactly votes for the Oscars and their nominations.
Every year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) publish nominations for the year’s ‘Oscars’ – the largest and most important of the award ceremonies in the movie calendar. We’re movie buffs here at Man Wants and have been poring over the nominations with some interest this week. But then somebody asked ‘who actually comes up with these nominations?’
It’s a great question, so we thought we’d delve a little deeper and find some names and numbers.
As of 2018 there are over 8,000 members of AMPAS with each member coming from one of the key disciplines in film production. Perhaps unsurprisingly actors comprise the largest section of members at just over 20%. Doesn’t sound terribly independent, does it? Prestigious movie awards being awarded by honorary members of a movie organisation. Let’s take a closer look at this exclusive club.
According to the Oscar’s website (https://www.oscars.org/about/become-new-member) membership reviews take place once a year, in Spring, with proposals to be submitted around the end of March.
So who can apply for membership?
Again, according to the website, each candidate must receive the ‘favourable endorsement’ of the appropriate Branch Executive Committee before being submitted to the Board of Governors for final approval. Aha, so ordinary Joes like you and I won’t get very far.
So who or what is the Branch Executive Committee? It’s a good question. Digging a little deeper we can see that each branch (Actors, writers, directors etc.) has its own rules for nomination.
Here’s the current ruling for any actors wishing to join the board.
From Academy Bylaws:
Article III, Section 1. Membership shall be by invitation of the Board of Governors. Invitations to active membership shall be limited to those persons active in the motion picture arts and sciences, or credited with screen achievements, or who have otherwise achieved distinction in the motion picture arts and sciences and who, in the opinion of the Board, are qualified for membership.
To be considered for invitation to membership in the Actors Branch of the Academy, an individual must:
(a) have a minimum of three theatrical feature film credits, in all of which
the roles played were scripted roles, one of which was released in the past
five years, and all of which are of a caliber that reflect the high standards
of the Academy,
(b) have been nominated for an Academy Award in one of the acting categories,
(c) have, in the judgment of the Actors Branch Executive Committee,
otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution as a motion picture actor.
It’s pretty clear that the Academy comprises industry stalwarts and big shots from every discipline of movie production. On the one hand you could argue that nobody is better placed to recognise such talent as those who have received honours in the field previously. On the other you could also argue that it’s a bit of a boy’s club. And we don’t make such a claim lightly.
Though the Academy doesn’t publish its membership list a study was performed in 2012 by The Los Angeles Times. That study focused on around 88% (5,100+ active voters) of AMPAS’ members and deduced the following:
94% were Caucasian
77% were male
54% were found to be over the age of 60
33% of voting members are former nominees (14%) and winners (19%)
That’s an alarming number of white men! Little wonder that the academy has come under fire in recent years for its lack of diversity (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_Awards#Allegations_of_a_lack_of_diversity).
The ballot sheets for nomination in each category are distributed to members by the multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers in December. All responses are expected back by a date in January. You can imagine that sifting through so much data takes a LOT of time hence the employment of PwC for such an undertaking.
Oscar nominations are a big deal. The media wheel spins into a frenzy in January and doesn’t stop for the weeks leading up to the awards ceremony in February.
The categories for nomination are varied but haven’t changed too much at all since the inception of the Oscar’s ceremony in the 1920s. The most recent category to be added being the Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2001.
Best Picture: since 1927/28
Best Director: since 1927/28
Best Actor: since 1927/28
Best Actress: since 1927/28
Best Supporting Actor: since 1936
Best Supporting Actress: since 1936
Best Animated Feature Film: since 2001
Best Animated Short Film: since 1930/31
Best Cinematography: since 1927/28
Best Costume Design: since 1948
Best Documentary Feature: since 1943
Best Documentary Short Subject: since 1941
Best Film Editing: since 1934
Best Foreign Language Film: since 1947
Best Live Action Short Film: since 1931/32
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: since 1981
Best Original Score: since 1934
Best Original Song: since 1934
Best Production Design: since 1927/28
Best Sound Editing: since 1963
Best Sound Mixing: since 1929/30
Best Visual Effects: since 1939
Best Adapted Screenplay: since 1927/28
Best Original Screenplay: since 1940
The naming of the ‘Oscar’ statuette is actually the source of some dispute.
Bette Davis, who was herself a president of the Academy, had once claimed that she’d named the Oscar after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.
Another source claimed that the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, has stated that the statuette had reminded her of her “Uncle Oscar” (actually a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce). Columnist Sidney Skolsky had overheard Herrick and written “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar’.”
I suppose that’s the way to get something named, put it in print and have it read by countless people.
The Oscar statuette stands at 13.5″ tall and is comprised of a few materials before being finished in 24 carat gold plate.