How Does the Oscars Voting Work?
Award season is upon us, with the Grammy’s just crowning the year’s best in music in February. The next big award show coming up is the Academy Awards, or Oscars, where the year’s best movies are recognized. For those of us on the outside, the concept of award shows may seem a bit confusing, especially when it’s not the audience that’s doing the voting. Instead, it’s “the academy,” which likely means nothing to you, and you may be wondering who — or what — the academy even is. This article will help to break down the who, what, when, where and how of the Oscars voting so you can feel like you’re in the know when the winners are announced during the show on March 12.
Who Votes for the Oscars?
When people accept awards at the Oscars, you’ve probably heard them say something along the lines of, “I’d like to thank the Academy.” That’s because “the Academy” does the voting to decide who will be taking home a trophy that night. “The Academy” is The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is a group of more than 10,000 industry professionals with about 9,500 voting members. The members are made up of film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures, according to the Academy itself. Membership is then divided into 17 branches, including categories for actors, directors, makeup artists and hairstylists, writers and producers.
But how do you even become a member? You can’t just apply to join the Academy like you would a job. Instead, you have to be sponsored by two existing members from the branch you’re looking to enter. Also, if you’re nominated for an Oscar, you’re automatically considered for membership and can skip the sponsorship process. Each year in the spring, sponsored candidates and award nominees are reviewed by branch committees and then recommendations for new members are reviewed by the Academy’s Board of Governors — this is the group that gets the final say on who will be getting an invitation to join the Academy. Last year, 397 people were invited to become members including Jamie Dornan, Ariana DeBose, Jesse Plemons, and Anya Taylor-Joy.
How are the Nominees Chosen?
Nominees for each award category are selected by members of those specific branches. So members in the directors branch select nominees for Best Director, actors select nominees for the various acting categories, and so on. The only exception to this rule is the Best Picture category, which everyone gets a say in. For Best Picture, voting members submit a list of five nominees, ranked from their first to last choice. So if you really loved Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and want to see her get a nomination, you’d put her name at the top of your list.
Once the individual ballots are submitted, accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers start the number crunching. They’re looking for what’s called the “magic number,” which is a specific number of votes that turns a potential nominee into an official nominee. This is where the math comes in, so stay with me here. Basically, to determine this magic number, they take the total number of ballots received for a specific category and divide that by the total possible nominees, plus one. For example, let’s say there are 600 ballots. You’d divide that by six because there are five possible nominees on each ballot, but you add one more per the formula. That would make the magic number 100, meaning a person needs to get 100 ballots to become an official nominee.
This is the simplified, watered down explanation of the process, but you get the gist without diving into the nitty gritty details. This process is repeated until there are five nominees in each category. The only exception here is the Best Picture category, which has up to 10 nominees.
How Are the Winners Chosen?
Thankfully, the process for choosing Oscar winners is much simpler. Once the nominees are decided, each member of the Academy gets one vote per category, but they’re discouraged from voting in categories they don’t fully understand, or in ones where they haven’t seen all the nominated films. From there, it’s just a matter of tallying the votes, and whoever received the most in each category is the winner. The exception here — of course there is an exception — is the Best Picture category. Because this category is so big — and such a big deal — it uses a preferential ballot system. With these ballots, voters rank the nominees from their most to least favorite. Votes are then tallied over a series of rounds, with the least voted for picture being eliminated until one of the nominees receives more than 50% of the number one votes. The goal here is to find a consensus favorite that most Academy members would say is their number one favorite, or at least close to it.
You can’t buy an Oscar, but you can certainly campaign to get more people to see your film, and it’s also not a popularity contest, which are two big myths that surround the award show. If that were the case, more well-loved names in the business would have a closet full of awards that they take home each year. Being likable certainly helps, but really who does and doesn’t win an award is up to the judgment of the voting members. Even you — the audience — doesn’t have a say. It’s not like other fan-voted award shows like the American Music Awards or People’s Choice Awards that allow the audience to pick the winners. Instead, we’ll all be tuning in from our couches on March 12 to see who the Academy picked to bring home one of those gold-plated statuettes this year.