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And The Oscar Goes To… Understand How The Oscars Nominations And Voting Work

If you’re a movie lover, you’re probably eagerly waiting for the 2021’s ceremony of The Oscars. Next Sunday (25), we will find out who are the winners of the 93rd edition of the biggest award in international cinema. But, did you know that the logistics of the awards start long before the ceremony takes place? 

Choosing the nominees and, then, the winners of each category demands a lot of work. Every year, The Academy picks thousands of professionals in the field to help select the films and people who should be awarded. The process takes days to be concluded and requires a huge mathematical effort! Her Campus Casper Libero explains everything you need to know to understand this complex — and somewhat confusing — voting system. Movie buffs: prepare your betting lists, popcorn, wine — and a calculator!


What is the Academy?

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is the organization responsible for studying and promoting the North-American film industry. It also takes charge of representing the rights of workers in the cinematographic area. The Academy was founded by the Ukrainian-American producer Louis B. Mayer on May 11th, 1927, in California, United States. He was one of the chiefs of MGM, one of the oldest and most prestigious film production companies in the history of cinema. In addition to Oscar, the AMPAS also organizes the Student Academy Awards to honor graduate and post-graduate filmmakers.


Who are the members of the Academy?

Currently, the Academy has more than 9.000 affiliated members from all around the world, all of whom are professionals of the cinematographic industry: actors, directors, producers, set designers, cast preparers, costume designers, screenwriters, among many others. The insider’s participation is not lifelong. It is valid for ten years, to prevent professionals who are no longer active in the area from continuing to influence the committee’s decisions.

To become part of this exclusive team, you need to be invited by, at least, two steering members of The Academy. The only requirement to become qualified for the indication is to be a professional working in the area. After the nomination, the name has yet to pass the approval of the Governor Committee, the group that leads and manages the AMPAS. The other way to join The Academy is to be an Oscar nominee or winner: then, you can apply on your own.

The Academy does not disclose an official list of its insiders, but nothing prevents the members from publicizing their position. Among the artists who presently have voting power, there is Zendaya, Lady Gaga, Cynthia Erivo, Adele, Tom Holland, and the Brazilians Rodrigo Santoro, Petra Costa, and Fernanda Montenegro.

Lady Gaga

Since 2016, the Academy has undergone some changes in its membership policy, after several years of harsh criticism about the lack of diversity in its insider’s list. In that year, the institution reported that, at that time, its 6000 members were 93% white and 76% men. This situation generated a lot of discussion inside the organization and also in social media — the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite took over the world. Since then, the Academy plans to gradually duplicate the number of women and ethnic minority people in its team.


How are the movies chosen to be nominated?

All the movies released in the United States between January 1st and December 31st of the year before the award are eligible for an Oscar. Besides, to be allowable for the election, the film must fulfill two more requirements: to have been playing for at least 7 days in one cinema with paying viewers in Los Angeles; and use 70mm or 35mm formats, in case of analog recording, or, in case of digital ones, presents four or 48 frames per second.


Producers must register their movies and short films on the Academy’s website so that they go through a kind of “selective process”: they need to pass the approval of the organization, which will decide in which categories they intend to compete. After this pre-selection, a list of 300 pre-nominees is sent to specialists in each area, who will select only five to be the official nominees. Then, the voting stage begins!


How does the voting work?

There are 24 voting categories and each member can only vote in splits that match with their area of expertise. In other words, actors only vote in acting categories; directors only vote in direction ones; and so forth! Then the process occurs just like any simple election: Insiders of each branch of the association receive individual ballots with the names of the five nominees in each category and vote for their favorites.


And what about the category of “Best Movie”?

Well, the time has come to use your calculator… Unlike the other 23 categories, the award for “Best Movie” follows very specific — and more complex — rules. First, all the members of The Academy vote in that category, regardless of their expertise. Moreover, the mathematics to define the chosen ones is very peculiar.

In this case, the “Best Movie” nomination takes place through a different method, called the “preferential system”. Each member makes a list ranking their five favorite movies, in order of preference. To be eligible, the movie must have appeared at the first position on the list of at least one of the voters. The more times it appears in the first place, the more chances it will have to be officially nominated. 

The nomination depends on a specific quota of votes, informally called “magic number”, which is discovered by the following formula: the total number of votes divided by the number of vacancies available for nomination plus one. If a movie is listed in the first position in some lists that is higher than the “magic number”, it can be considered one of the nominated movies in this category.

Any movie which exceeds the magic number by 20% “lends” that surplus to films that have not reached the goal. Each surplus point is divided into two parts: one keeps the film “donor” and the other goes to the “needy” one. This redistribution of points is done until the votes that can be donated run out — or until the ten vacancies are field. The finalists are publicly announced and, in the final election, each member receives another ballot to vote in only one option. (Finally), the most voted receives the Oscar!


What changed this year?

oscars ceremony academy awards
Photo by Greg Hernandez from Flickr

As a consequence of the pandemic times in which we’re living, this year’s ceremony adopted a lot of temporary adjustments. First, the eligibility rules were shifted. Because of the closing of movie theaters due to sanitary measures, films that were released in drive-ins or directly available on digital streaming platforms are also able to be nominated (Hello, Netflix!). Also, the eligible period for productions was providentially extended to February 28th, 2021, instead of December 31st of the previous year.

The date of the formalities, which would happen in February, was also transferred to April 25th. This was the fourth time in the Oscars’ history that the award had to be delayed: it had only happened before in 1938, because of inundation in Los Angeles; in 1968, because of the assassination of Martin Luther King; and in 1981, after the President Reagan’s assassination attempt.

Also because of the coronavirus pandemic, the format of the award is still uncertain but will surely be adapted. In a letter sent to the insiders, the president of The Academy signaled that only nominees, presenters, and their companions should attend the ceremony in person. To escape the remote format (as it happened in Emmys, for example), the solemnity will take place in Dolby Theater — the traditional “house of Oscar” —, but also in the Union State, a train station in the center of Los Angeles’, which is a bigger location where it is possible to provide social detachment.


Well, now that you know how the Oscars nominations and voting work, you can’t miss it, right? Here in Brazil, you can watch the 93rd Oscars ceremony, starting from the red carpet, on the pay-TV channels TNT and E! on the evening of April 25th. But, don’t worry! You can still accompany parts of the event without needing to pay anything: On open TV, the ceremony is annually covered by Rede Globo, always after “Big Brother Brasil”. So, we’ll meet there with our popcorn and our bets! 



The article above was edited by Laura Enchioglo

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Helena Cardoso

Casper Libero '21

A journalism student who loves musical theater and dreams about living in Disney World.
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