Oscar Politics: Foreign-Language Picture Rules

The Foreign-Language Film Oscar is one of the most problematic and controversial categories. How does the system work Each country submits films for Award consideration. This year, 54 countries have submitted entries. Once submitted, a screening committee, which consists of about 400 Academy members (7 percent of the entire membership), is broken down into three subgroups, each asked to screen 16 or 17 films.

The screenings take place at the Academy on weekday evenings or weekends over a brief period; the deadline for submission is late November, not the calendar year. Each member then ranks the films numerically. Members must view at least 70 percent of the films assigned to their subgroup, or their ratings are not included in the selection of the 5 nominated pictures. The 5 films receiving the highest scores are the official nominees, announced like the other categories on Tuesday, Jan 31.

Critics have raised their concerns over the composition of the committee and the restrictions placed on all Academy members to qualify to vote. While it is easy to join the committee—you just have to volunteer—there are a few obstacles you must overcome to make your vote count.

A member can vote for the final selection only if he or she has seen all 70 percent of the films. All official screenings are at the Academy Theater. And while credit is given for films previously seen at festivals or in screening rooms, the final voters are not permitted to view the film on video or DVD. This means that, ultimately, a very small number of Academy voters determine which foreign-language film are nominated and win.