As you’ve no doubt heard, an Oscar is the highest honor in Hollywood. The award has the power to reinvigorate long-dormant careers, establish newcomers among the ranks of the industry’s elite, and shift a C-lister to the A-list in an instant.
But what is it that makes an Academy Award so prestigious? Who votes for the nominees and who ultimately crowns a winner?
Well, the answer is far from simple. There are reportedly now more than 7,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, described as “film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures.” These members are broken into 17 different branches that cross every corner of the industry—from music and public relations to actors (and 14 others of equal importance). For those who don’t fit into a career-specific branch, there are two additional categories: “members-at-large” and “associates.” You can check out all the eligibility requirements on the official Oscars website.
There are two gateways in which one can join the Academy. If you’re nominated for an Academy Award, you’re automatically considered for membership—if not, you need two Academy members from the appropriate branch to sponsor you. The decision is ultimately made by the Academy’s Board of Governors—invitations are sent in spring.
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When it comes to nominations, members of the specified branch vote for the nominees in their field (actors vote submit nominees for best actor, directors submit nominees for best director, etc.). Notable exceptions to the nomination process include the categories of Animated Feature Film, Documentary, Foreign Language Film, and Short Film, which you can learn about in the Academy’s 35-page rulebook. The nominees for Best Picture, however, are open to all voting members of the academy.
Once the nominees have been chosen, every voting member of the Academy is able to vote for a winner in each category. After the results are calculated, only two people (partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers) know the winners until the televised reveal.