Who votes for the Oscars, and how does it work?

Hollywood, United States: The ballots are all in!

Millions of television viewers around the globe will tune in Sunday to watch the Oscars, the glitziest night in showbiz, but most don't know how the winners are chosen.

Answer: more than 9,300 people in the entertainment industry select honorees. The number is a record high. But who are they and how did they get to become voters?

Here is a look at the complex, sometimes confounding process that leads to the winners of the 23 Academy Awards:

Who votes?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles currently has 9,362 voting members.

Academy membership is divided into 17 branches -- actors, directors, producers, costume designers, and so on -- and candidates must be active or otherwise have "achieved distinction" in the industry.

Applicants must be sponsored by two Academy members representing their branch.

Oscar winners and nominees are automatically considered for membership and don't need sponsors.

Applications are reviewed once a year by the Academy's Board of Governors, which has the final say on who joins the elite group.

Members used to enjoy voting rights for life but since 2016, "voting status" has been limited to 10 years, and is renewable, to avoid having voters who are no longer active in the business.

Lifetime voting rights only come after three 10-year terms. Those not active become "emeritus" members who cannot vote.

Who are the Academy members?

For a long time, the Academy did not reveal its voting roll, though nothing prevents a member from saying he or she can cast a ballot.

At the time of the #OscarsSoWhite uproar in 2015 and 2016, about the lack of nominees of color, the Academy revealed that of its 6,000 members, 93 percent were white and 76 percent were men. The median age was 63.

The Academy announced it would double the number of women and minority members by 2020 to foster a more diverse environment.

Last summer, the organization announced it had met that goal. The Academy is now one-third female and 19 percent "underrepresented minorities."

The group has also vastly boosted its foreign membership. Now, more than 2,100 are not Americans.

How are the nominees chosen?

Members of each of the 17 branches pick the nominees in their area of expertise. The actors' branch -- the largest voting group -- submits nominations for the acting categories, directors submit nominations for best director, and so on.

Nominations for certain awards, like for best international film and best-animated feature, are chosen by special committees.

The entire membership votes to choose the nominees for the best picture.

How are the winners chosen?

All voting members choose the winners.

In 22 of 23 categories, the person with the most votes is the winner.

But when it comes to the coveted best picture award, the Oscar voters have since 2009 used a complicated preferential ballot system in which they rank the films from most favorite to least favorite.

Anywhere from five to 10 nominees can be chosen: this year, eight films are in contention.

If one film garners more than 50 percent of the vote outright, it automatically wins.

Otherwise, the count unfolds in rounds -- the film that received the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated and those votes given to it are then allocated to the voters' second choice.

The process of elimination continues until there is one film left with more than 50 percent of the vote.

"The idea of the preferential ballot is to reflect the wishes of the greatest number of voters," explained Ric Robertson, who was the Academy's chief operating officer in 2009 when the process changed.

"Otherwise you might end up with a movie that, say, 25 percent of the people love and the rest can't stand," he told the Los Angeles Times.

"This way, hopefully, you have a winner that most people can live with."

Five things to watch for at the Oscars

Travelers passing through Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday might notice a slight commotion -- for one night only, it is doubling as the venue for the Oscars.

While passengers jumping on a train most likely won't get a glimpse past the tight security, here are five things that movie fans watching the 93rd Academy Awards from home should look out for:

'Nomadland' sweep?

Going into Sunday, "Nomadland" is the clearest best picture Oscar frontrunner in years.

So barring a dramatic shock, the question may be just how many Oscars Chloe Zhao's road movie can win.

If the heavily improvised film lands the prize for best adapted screenplay early in the night, a serious sweep could be on the cards.

And Zhao -- who would be the second woman, and the first of color to win best director -- could equal another remarkable record.

Nobody has won more Oscars in a night than Walt Disney's four in 1953. Zhao is up for golden statuettes for editing, screenplay, directing and as a producer for best picture.

Eighth time unlucky?

Of course, there is a big difference between landing multiple nominations and actually winning -- just ask Glenn Close.

From 1983's "The World According to Garp" to 2019's "The Wife," Close has been nominated but failed to win on seven previous occasions.

If she comes up short again on Sunday, she will be tied with the late Peter O'Toole as the Academy's most reliable runner-up.

Unfortunately the odds don't look great for Close -- while her transformational performance as a tough-as-nails grandmother in "Hillbilly Elegy" was praised, the film drew widespread scorn.


When last year's nominations were announced, it looked like years of activism and pledges for reform driven by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign had come to nothing -- 19 of the 20 actors were white.

But this year's crop of stars have set new records for diversity, including nine actors of color on the shortlists, and the first Asian American ever nominated for best actor (Steven Yeun of "Minari.").

Two women were nominated for best director, for the first time ever.

And it is not just the Oscars -- earlier this month, the Screen Actors Guild selected non-white winners in all four film categories.

That quartet -- Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung -- could well repeat on Sunday.

McDormand three-peat?

Frances McDormand has long been an Academy favorite, and she anchors this year's frontrunner "Nomadland" with a characteristically unglamorous portrayal of a grieving widow living in an old van.

If she takes best actress honors on Sunday, she will become only the second woman in Oscars history to bag a trio of wins in that category -- after the peerless Katharine Hepburn, who has four.

The Oscar would put her at the pinnacle of a triple-winners actress club also including Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman, who each have two lead actress Oscars and one supporting actress prize.

Masks, movie shots and more?

Oscars co-producer Steven Soderbergh and his colleagues held a press conference last weekend where they set out their vision for a ceremony intended to look more like a feature film than a TV show -- without saying anything specific at all.

For instance, will the stars wear masks?

"Masks are going to play a very important role in the story of this evening... If that's cryptic, it's meant to be," Soderbergh said.

With so much under wraps, one thing is sure -- the night is the first major Hollywood gathering in more than a year, and without pesky journalists and studio executives around to disturb them, many stars will be ready to party.

"After the show, we'll go to the post-show, probably more alcohol on the post-show, but it'll be free, so it'll be great," joked co-producer Jesse Collins.

Best picture Oscar winners of past 20 years

The following is a list of the best picture Oscar winners from the last 20 years, ahead of Sunday's 93rd Academy Awards in Hollywood.

This year, eight films are in contention for the top prize: "The Father," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Mank," "Minari," "Nomadland," "Promising Young Woman," "Sound of Metal" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7."

2020 - "Parasite"

2019 - "Green Book"

2018 - "The Shape of Water"

2017 - "Moonlight"

2016 - "Spotlight"

2015 - "Birdman"

2014 - "12 Years A Slave"

2013 - "Argo"

2012 - "The Artist"

2011 - "The King's Speech"

2010 - "The Hurt Locker"

2009 - "Slumdog Millionaire"

2008 - "No Country for Old Men"

2007 - "The Departed"

2006 - "Crash"

2005 - "Million Dollar Baby"

2004 - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"

2003 - "Chicago"

2002 - "A Beautiful Mind"

2001 - "Gladiator"

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