Who Votes for the Oscars, and How Do They Do It?

At this point in awards season, the Academy may sseem to loom like a monolith, prepared to deliver its ruling on the best films of the year. But who actually votes for the Oscars? Here is a guide on the people and the processes that determine the year’s Academy Award nominations and winners:

Who votes for the Oscars?

The Academy Awards are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a massive group of industry professionals totaling more than 10,000 members, with almost 9,500 eligible to vote. This is a nearly 65% increase from the reported voting membership total a decade ago, thanks in part to the Academy’s initiatives to invite more women, people of color, and filmmakers from around the world.

Who are the Academy members?

If someone has previously been nominated for an Oscar, it’s a safe bet that that person is also in the Academy (though some famous names have declined the invitation, like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler, who is nominated this year for his hand in writing the original song “Lift Me Up”). The Academy describes its voting groups as “limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically released motion pictures” and divides membership into 17 branches.

What are the branches?

If it has a category at the Oscars, there is a branch to go with it—with a few exceptions. In addition to Oscar voters with familiar categories such as cinematographers or directors, there are also branches for casting directors, executives, producers, and marketing and public relations, making up 17 branches in total (plus members-at-large who don’t fit into an existing branch). The acting categories are voted on by the branch that is by far the largest, with more than 1,300 members.

How do you become a member?

To become an Academy member, candidates must be sponsored by two existing members of the candidate’s prospective Academy branch. First-time nominees are given automatic membership consideration without sponsorship. Some of the year’s 397 invitees include winners like Ariana DeBose and Billie Eilish, nominees like Jessie Buckley and Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and even snubbees like Caitriona Balfe and Reinaldo Marcus Green. If, like Drive My Car’s auteur Hamaguchi, an invitee is invited into multiple branches, you must choose a branch, as the Academy only allows members to belong to a single branch.

Why do people campaign for an Oscar?

Every year the Academy releases a full list of the feature films eligible for consideration; for 2022, there were 301. Campaign efforts work hard to ensure that even a beloved film doesn’t get lost among them. Even though these Academy members make movies, that doesn’t mean they see as many movies as the average cinephile. Therefore, there is a lot of power in which film studios can spend a lot of campaign dollars to get noticed.

Does the Academy have rules about campaigning? Did To Leslie break any of them?

The Academy has extensive guidelines about what can and cannot be done in effort to garner support around a film and its creators. Broadly, events should be centered around a screening of the film in question and you cannot directly contact voters or make mention of your competition. The To Leslie campaign had at least one non-screening-related event (where invitees were welcomed to attend after viewing the film on their own), but the Academy did not rule any violation worthy of removing Andrea Riseborough’s best-actress nomination. However, the Academy did make mention of “social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern,” perhaps alluding to at least one Academy member who supported Riseborough online while mentioning other actresses in contention. Per the Academy, “These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly,” but there was no mention of membership or voting privileges being revoked for those in question.

Can a nomination be rescinded? 

Yes. Recent examples of nominations rescinded have been caused by violations of those campaign rules, such as the best-original-song nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone being revoked after its songwriter (an executive committee member of the music branch) directly made fellow branch members aware of his submission. Other famous instances include The Godfather having its best-original-score nomination revoked after it was determined the score featured portions of an earlier composition.

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