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Feb202012

Who chooses Academy Award winners? Old white men

One of the main reasons that the Academy Awards are so prestigious is because they are voted on by members of the filmmaking community itself, but who are they? This question is especially pertinant in a year where some of the films and performances that weren’t nominated are as interesting as those that were. To help explore this question, the LA Times spoke with more than 5,100, or 89 percent, of the voting members to uncover some of the demographics of the voting members in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Oscar voter demographics:

  • 5,765 voting members
  • 94 percent Caucasian (2 percent Black, 2 percent Latino)
  • 77 percent male
  • Median age of 62
  • 14 percent are younger than 50
  • About 50 percent of the actors in the Academy have appeared on screen in the last 2 years
  • Membership is generally for life (hundreds haven’t worked on a movie in decades)
  • White males make up 90 percent of every Academy branch except actors
  • Actors are 88 percent white
  • The executive and writers branches are 98 percent white
  • Men make up more than 90 percent of five branches including visual effects and cinematography
  • Famous actors like Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep are members

Women and the Academy:

  • 6 of the Academy’s 43-member board of governors are women. Only 1 is not white. 
  • 9 percent of directors are female
  • 19 percent of the Academy’s screenwriters are female

New inductees (since 2004):

  • 89 percent white
  • 73 percent male
  • 30 percent female (in 2011)
  • 10 percent nonwhite (in 2011)

Is this right? Academy members were split. Some believe that the Academy should reflect the population, while others don’t. 

“I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for,” said Frank Pierson, a former academy president who still serves on the board of governors. “We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”

He may have a point. The roles and general number of non-white filmmakers and performances in major Hollywood films seems to be lower than ever. 

“People of color are always peripheral,” said African American character actor Bernie Casey (Under Siege), who said he recently quit the academy because of its racial makeup. “Asians, Latinos, black people — you never see them. We are 320 million people in America and about 48 million black people and the same of Latin descent — but you would not believe that based on what you see in films and television shows.”

Some have raised the concern over age as well. Alfre Woodard, 59, an African American actress and Academy member cited Shame as an example of a film that may have been nominated if the Academy voters didn’t have a median age of 62.

“Maybe if the median age was 45 to 50, a film like Shame might show up, which I thought was a brilliantly rendered piece but a subject matter that you don’t expect a certain older demographic would flock to see,” she told the Times.

Since a policy shift in 2004, things have started to change ever so slightly. The Times notes that the median age of members dropped from 64 to 62 and members are 76 percent male and slightly less than 94 percent white.

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