Oscar 2009: Who Are the Oscar's Voters?

Initially, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) consisted of five branches, each representing a distinct talent group: producers, writers, directors, actors, and technicians. However, the increasing division of labor in the industry, based on specialized expertise, resulted in a more complex structure, composed at present of fourteen branches of craftsmanship. They include four of the original ones (producers, writers, directors, actors), administrative units (executives, public relations), and subdivisions within the technical units (art directors, cinematography, editing, sound, art direction).

Membership has always been by invitation only. From the start, the idea was to create an association of Hollywood's creative elite. Artists are invited to join "when their services to the motion picture industry have been prominent enough to make the Academy members feel they would like to have them as brother members." Section I of the Constitution formalized the qualifications: "Any person who has accomplished distinguished work or acquired distinguished standing in or made valuable contributions to the production branches of the motion picture industry, directly or indirectly, and who is of good moral and personal standing may become an active member of the Academy by vote of the Board of Directors or recommendation of the Committee on Membership." 
 
In 1931, the Academy distinguished between two classes of members: Academy Members, who "have all the privileges, are entitled to vote on all Academy matters, and may serve on the Board of Directors," and Associate Member, who "have voting privileges limited to branch policies and action." The new policy required for all invitees to be first admitted as associate members. And once a year, the Board of Directors, upon recommendation of the Branch Committee, would select from the associate members those entitled to "special distinction" of Academy membership. The rules allowed the membership to grow steadily, from the 270 artists who attended the second Academy banquet in 1929 to 1,200 members in 1932.
 
During World War II, the political climate overrode industry concerns, and the strife between the Academy and the Guilds subsided. After the war, the AMPAS's membership increased dramatically: in 1939, there were 600 members; in 1947, 1,433; in 1952, 1,600; and in 1956, 1,770 members. In the 1960s, the Academy saw a further increase of its ranks from 2,084 members in 1959 to 3,030 in 1968. 
 
At present, there are 5,777 voting members. The annual net gain is estimated at about 150 members. The voting group grew by 272 from 5,467 members in 2000 to 5,739 in 2002 to 5,777 in December 2009. 
 
The membership is divided as follows (in alphabetical order):
 
Actors                           1,205
Art directors                  374
Cinematographers         200
Directors                       366
Documentarians            151
Executives                    437
Film editors                   221
Makeup Artists            118
Music                           234
Producers                     452
Public Relations             368
Shorts                           340
Sound                           405
Visual effects                 279
Writers             382
 
Members at large     245
 
The Acting Branch has always been the largest, amounting to one?fourth of the membership. In 1928, there were 362 Academy members, of which 91 were actors, 78 directors, 70 writers, 69 technicians, and 54 producers. In 2002, the Acting Branch amounted to 23 percent of the entire membership. At present, it's about 22 percent; many vet actors have retired.
 
The fastest growing branches are the visual effects, due to the effect of sci-fi, CGI, and new technologies (3D), short films, and documentarians.
 
Compared with the Screen Guilds, the Academy is small. The membership of the Acting branch amounts to two percent of the Screen Actors Guild's. The Academy's Writers and Directors branches are even smaller and more elitist in relation to their respective guilds. In 2002, the Academy's Directors' Branch was composed of 364 members, compared with the 12,400 members of DGA, which includes in addition to filmmakers, TV directors, associate directors, stage managers, and unit production managers.
 
The Academy's small size and elitist nature accounts for its prestige, thus making membership a desirable goal for every artist. Defenders of its small size claim that democratizing its structure, by opening it to a larger number of industry workers, will defeat the original purpose of being an elite organization with the most accomplished film artists. The Academy was never meant to be an egalitarian organization representing all film artists.
 
Membership requirements differ from one branch to another. The easiest and fastest way to become a member is by gaining a nomination: All nominees are invited to become members. The Academy has seldom used its right to withhold an invitation to a nominee. Beyond that, each branch has its own criteria. In most branches, it is necessary to have several film credits, a few years of experience, and sponsorship by two established members.