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Who Votes For The Oscars? Here's How It All Works

It's commonly believed viewers who watch the 2021 Oscars — or any other incarnation of the annual Academy Awards show — will see the winners that are chosen by a shadowy Hollywood cabal. The truth about the Oscars, however, is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn't as high-falutin' as you might have assumed. The group has been working to widen its circle in recent years, expanding from 5,856 members in 2014 to a whopping 9,362 as of February of 2021, according to Gold Derby. Step one on the path to achieving membership: falling into an approved branch of the filmmaking industry.

Yes, like cinephile Hogwarts inductees, Academy voters are divided up into separate houses. There are plenty of them, with the organization's website listing branches that include directors, cinematographers, costume designers, hairstylists, producers, visual effects artists, writers, actors, and a dozen others, including three groups —executives, casting directors, and public relations — that serve a role in filmmaking but have no awards associated with them. Get a pair of sponsorships from two current members and you're well on your way to taking part in Hollywood's noblest democratic process, and to ensuring that Dolph Lundgren finally gets that Oscar.

Oscar voting is a complicated process

The requirements to join the Academy's respective branches vary from one to the next — in order to be considered, actors need to have at least three scripted roles in theatrically released films, with one having come out in the last five years; have been nominated for an Oscar; or "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." A director, meanwhile, would need to have made two movies, one in the last ten years, "of a caliber which, in the opinion of the executive committee, reflect the high standards of the Academy"; have been nominated for a Best Director, Best Picture, or Best International Feature Film award; or been judged worthy of a spot on the council through other work. If that seems a little arbitrary, it's important to remember that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is more art than science.

Prospective inductees into the AMPAS are sifted through once a year, and, according to the Academy's website, its members get to nominate and vote for contenders for the various award categories based on the branch to which they belong. Performers vote for performance nominees, writers vote for writing nominees, and so on, with members of all branches eligible to vote on Best Picture nominees. When the nominees are finalized, all members of the Academy are able to select winners for each category and, when the votes are in, only two people — partners at PricewaterhouseCoopers — know the winners until they're announced live at the awards show.

It's a long, convoluted process, so if you're really interested in signing up, your best bet is to take the easy route and just win so many Oscars that the Academy has to invite you.