Inside the Academy Infographic – just who are the Oscar voters?

The Academy Awards are just days away. By this time next week, ardent movie fans and even casual movie fans will likely be participating in some kind of Oscar tittle tattle.

Some of you might already know that the Oscar envelope just got a new makeover last year, updating the plain white envelope design they had been using for the last 70 years. You can read about the design in this article, taking cues from old Hollywood, it’s made to look as glamorous as the ceremony itself.

It sure is pretty, but the thing that matter most about the Oscar but yet always been a mystery to me is who determine whose names that’ll get printed under the beautifully embossed lettering of “AND THE OSCAR GOES TO.” A lot are riding in that decision point, let’s face it, no matter how we as moviegoers feel about the Oscars, for the industry folks, winning or even just being nominated for an Oscar affect their career in a big way. But who really make up the 5,765 AMPAS’ voting members that largely influence the Oscar nominees and winners?

The L.A. Times did a study recently and published its finding in this article. Well, the envelope might have a fresh new look, but suffice to say that the AMPAS as an institution is still pretty much same old, same old.

A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.

Below is part of the info-graphic that illustrate the findings, you can view the complete chart here.

Apparently not much has changed since its first organizational meeting in 1927. The article did say that Academy leaders do want to diversify, but “… change is difficult because the film industry is not very diverse, and slow because the academy has been limiting membership growth for the last decade,” President Tom Sherak and Chief Executive Dawn Hudson said in the article. Ok, so we’re supposed to give the Academy points for trying?? You’d think 85 years is a long enough time to make at least a noticeable change.

Well, this race/gender inequality issue is disheartening but not exactly surprising, but what is quite interesting to learn is that the majority of members (64%) have never been nominated or win an award themselves. Now, this article also revealed that some unexpected members of the Academy, some more mind-boggling than others… Pee-wee Herman? Meat Loaf??? Erik Estrada???? Yep, they are all members whilst Woody Allen and George Lucas are NOT. Oh and apparently Viggo Mortensen actually turned down an invitation. He was invited in 2004 and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for Eastern Promises but the article reported that his spokeswoman said, “Viggo does not like judging art officially,” Hmmm, would that hurt his Oscar chances in the future, I wonder?

So what are your thoughts about this study folks? Surprised, appalled, don’t care? Well, let’s hear it.

44 thoughts on “Inside the Academy Infographic – just who are the Oscar voters?

  1. The older age probably explains why The Dark Knight had no major nominations other than Heath Ledger’s!!! Still can’t get over it 🙂

    The high male percentage I guess is because not many females are working on the technical side of movies.

    As for Woody Allen, I’m not really surprised… he never attends the Oscars, even when he won. But what the hell is Russell Brand doing on the list of Academy members??

    1. Yeah I know, it’s crazy isn’t it that someone like Brand is even invited to be members!! Do they think hiring comedians (who isn’t all that funny) is what they think of diversity???

  2. This has been a constant ‘complaint’ about the Academy. Another reason not to sweat the process too much 🙂

    And can I say I have YET another reason to love Viggo Mortensen. He is awesome!

  3. This certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the Oscars, which is probably why it’s best to not take them so seriously – which, admittedly, is not easy because we want them to mean something. We want them to be important and meaningful, but the truth is, AMPAS gets it wrong at least as often as they get it right. We know that.

    1. You’ve said it best Rich, we DO want these awards to mean something and to have all races/gender be represented. I don’t think that is idealistic in this day and age?? Or is it?? Btw, my race (Asian) probably doesn’t even count enough to even have a percentage, ahah.

  4. PrairieGirl

    On the one hand, the AMPAS is a group honoring their own, which is perfectly kosher… I would be appalled if someone other than a graphic arts industry professional were to judge my work. On the other hand, for it to be such an elite group that limits its membership so tightly and has very little in common with the regular, movie-going public like us is a strange brew, too.

    1. Well the thing is Becky, a lot of its members are actually no longer in the biz but they’re members for life, at least that’s from what I gather. But the point is, there should be more gender/race represented within the industry professionals. Seems like 85 years is an awfully long time for an institution to still be so gender/racially lopsided like that.

  5. Ted S.

    That’s why I keep saying the Oscar Award is a joke. I don’t really care for the lack of diversity in the voters but I just laughed when I read that some of the voters haven’t worked in the movie industry for years and yet their vote still counts. Also, most of them never really achieved anything in Hollywood yet somehow they’re still a member, it’s pathetic.

    Like Asrap said, Russell Brand is a member so no one should take this thing seriously anymore.

    1. Ahah, well I can see why you hate the Oscars so much Ted. I really hope the leaders meant what they say about bringing more diversity, I mean come on, this is friggin’ 2012 for goodness sake!

  6. This is very interesting reading… I will watch the ceremony but I agree with you that it is very disheartening about the race/gender inequality.

    I’d love to know why Allen and Lucas declined their invitations, especially as Lucas was happy to accept the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

    1. Yeah I’ll probably watch it too, I guess no matter how we feel about it, it’s still the biggest event in the movie industry. Let’s hope it’ll at least be entertaining w/ Billy Crystal hosting.

  7. And that’s why the awards are a joke… how about some freakin’ diversity?!? The Academy has been stuck in the past for so long, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon.

  8. Very illustrative post. Good job Ruth !

    I do not think the award shows are useless simply because the attention artistic pursuits get at this day and age is very little and these ceremonies bring the spotlight on some very talented people. I would like for the awards to be a bit more about celebrating art and less about star power, but this is only a reaction to a society that is obsessed with celebrities.

    There are better awards than others, especially when we take the Oscars into consideration. Even some respectable artists hold this award very close to their hearts and the industry as a whole still seems to respect it a great deal. Sure, they have made plenty of significant omissions but, at least, they are more respectable than the Grammys or most other award shows. Usually, the Academy gives out top awards to very good films and artists, albeit not the best in every case, but it would be impossible to expect that.

    Having said that, I do think the Academy needs to diversify a bit more. The whole issue regarding Woody Allen not being in it might have more to do with his controversial personal life (marriage to his daughter in law) than with his obvious artistic success. On the other hand, the inclusion of people like Pee Wee Herman and Meatloaf is a bit absurd and inexcusable, there’s no denying that.

    The disparity that exists between the sexes is shameful. 77% to 33% ? That’s a bit too wide of a gap. The Academy needs to open up to more women for crying out loud !!
    The racial divide surprises me less, though it is indicative of an industry that still gives very few opportunities to races other than “white”.
    As for the last part of the chart, I am going to side with the Academy on this one. How many artists have been nominated or have won an award before as compared to those that have not? I think the statistic is more indicative of how very few people actually bring home the statuette.
    Now, if we are going to criticize the choices the Academy makes, I appreciate that we are a bit more consistent. If we don’t value the choices they make, how come we care about how many people that have not won get to judge?

    In any case, I will be watching the Academy Awards as I usually do.

    I will be posting my top 10 for 2011 just before the ceremony in case you want to compare our choices 🙂


    1. Very interesting point, Niels, I so agree with you on this note “…more about celebrating art and less about star power” Hear hear!

      I’ll be over to your site and check out your top 10, thanks for the heads up.

  9. Meatloaf is a brilliant actor, besides being a brilliant singer with most amazing cinematic videos, and he deserves to be in the Academy. And people should be in the voting system for their talent and quality of their work, not on their race or sex.

  10. The stats are mind-boggling but not surprising. It reflects the lack of diversity in the film industry as a whole and obviously, it’s exacerbated by the fact that the Academy is an ‘”exclusive” club. All we can do is hope and demand for faster change.

    1. Yep, it’s an exclusive country club all right. Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s surprised by these findings Cas, but still it’s a fascinating study in light of the Oscars this wknd.

  11. it doesn’t bother me that much about the race/gender mix of the voters, but what does concern me a little I guess is the age.

    I’d be interested in knowing the average age of the academy, While I jest at times that I think it is 150 years old, it seems that is the case Since a lot of newer projects, younger directors, and younger actors are shunned simply because of their novice level as opposed to their skill.

    i.e. Christopher Nolan’s blatant shun last year, David Fincher this year. Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling this year. Oh, and Ryan Gosling LAST year too.

    Yet several other nominees/winners seemed to be picked due to their popularity with the “Elders of the Academy.”

    oh well, I could go on about the subject but I should prob stop. Thanks for this post, Ruth!

    1. I think you’re right T, the age is a major factor in getting a more ‘out of the box’ choices for who’s getting nominated. I do think that the older members just might not get people like Fincher or Nolan, hence the ‘snub.’ He..he.. no feel free to go on, T, it’s certainly a hot-button issue.

  12. This just made me love Viggo Mortensen about ten times more than I did before XD
    Maybe the rate things are going, things will be more equal in the Academy in another….eighty years or so? I started paying close attention to the Oscars a few years ago, and I’m not really surprised at all by this article. A little disappointed, yes, but not surprised. I do think a lot of the films that get nominated all have their merits and for the most part are deserving, but this year especially, it all seems so bland!

    1. Viggo is just awesome isn’t he? Such wisdom and talent that man has. Oy, I hope it’ll be quicker than 80 years! I’d love for my kids to see the change instead of my grandkids, y’know? 🙂

  13. Interesting statistics, but not really that surprising seeing that the movie industry is mainly dominated by men. Some surprising members though! Should it be different? Probably, but I’m not expecting this to change anytime soon.

    1. It’s so odd that out of all the business in the world, the movie biz is probably still the most male-dominated ones. So much for being open-minded eh?

  14. hmmm that does stir up some concerns for sure!

    I am very much looking forward to this week being over. I am so over the whole award season now. Roll on the exploding robots!! hehehe

  15. Great post Ruth. The race and gender statistics bug me every year, and would probably make me more angry if we had the list of white men who have gotten in, as opposed to women and people of color who have been left off. It’s definitely the good old boys club at work there.

    But some of the other parts of the original news article seem a little hyped up to me. For example with the ages, I think we could always tell that by their choices, but I also get a little upset that these articles just lump all the over-60 year olds together. Surely they could have continued and given us stats for how many people are in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, etc. Not to do so always feels a bit like dishonest journalism to me, intended to tell a pre-ordained story about the Academy. I’m also not surprised that there’s an increase as people get older. Remember that people remain on the lists for life, and that for some their serious work doesn’t come until they are already in their 30’s 40’s or 50’s, not only in the technical branches where you often have to work your way up, but even most of the actors we know about look and play characters that are younger than they really are… At least until they’re not able to any more.

    And while Allen, Lucas and now Mortensen are famous examples of people who have refused to join (which is very different than not being asked), I always laugh at the way these news articles try to make a huge gap between an Allen and a Reubens, for example, in a way that tries to make us forget the 5,000 plus members in the middle of these extremes. Given the fact that actors make up about 20% of the membership, I can easily understand how Reubens, Estrada and Meat Loaf might make a list of the top 1000 living actors, particularly when we remember how popular they each were at the highpoints of their respective careers. Indeed, some of the younger actors and actresses that we may immediately want in the Academy today might seem just as silly even a decade or two from now.

    1. Hi David, yeah no wonder they never reveal the full list. I wish they’d send out as many invites to people of color and women but I doubt that is the case.

      You’ve got a point there about the age thing and the fact that they’re members for life. But then again to limit the age of members are tricky also as it implies that if you’re over a certain age then you no longer watch films? ‘Cause when you think about it, a good story is a good story, no matter how modern/conventional it is, y’know.

      You’re right that we just don’t know how many people turn down to be members, but I highly doubt that a lot of the people who didn’t accept the invites are minorities.

  16. I don’t want to sound too dismissive of the Oscars in general, but info like this is why I don’t take the award too seriously anymore. It’s fun to talk about and it’s always good to see the nominated movies, but those numbers sort of force you to take Oscar voting with a HUGE grain of salt.

    1. Oh you can be dismissive John, I won’t tell ’em 😉 Yeah I suppose if they do EVERYTHING right then it won’t be fun to talk about the Oscars, ahah.

  17. Pingback: Oscars, Schmoscars |

  18. Very interesting. I had an inkling as to who the voters were and it comes as no surprise that the bias leans towards older, white males. In the interests of fairness this doesn’t pass with high marks but the Oscars aren’t fair, it is a short-sighted pat on the back for a small selection of mainly American filmmakers and films. The long list of great films and filmmakers that didn’t ever receive an award, or were handed them almost as a “whoops, how did we forget about you” gesture (ala Scorsese), shows how the Academy get it wrong.

    1. Yep, the list of snubbed filmmakers/actors is no doubt astronomically higher than those who are recognized. Perhaps this year’s HUGO nom is an attempt to make up for snubbing Scorsese all those years before??

  19. That is extremely interesting and says a lot about why I find the Oscars stale and not at all surprinsing each year. However they serve a purpose and just because they’re never my favourite films nominated, at least they help promote film in general. And perhaps in about 25/30 years there might be a very different demographic voting and we’ll see some much more interesting and challenging films up for nominations!

    1. Very true, Pete, who knows one day they might get something right. 25/30 years sounds realistic, I mean really, they can’t stay archaic for too long right?

  20. I read these articles and thought of doing a post on it, but it’s been a hectic week. So Ruth, thanks for getting around to it 🙂 I found all the information really fascinating, and like you, it doesn’t surprise me one bit. It’s kind of ridiculous with some of the people who are members and some who aren’t. No wonder some great performances/films are snubbed, while others aren’t. I guess in a perfect world only nominated/winners would be members, and the rest would just have to deal with it. But alas, it’s not a perfect world, and the Academy is very, very far from reaching that “all is fair” place. Great post!

    1. I actually saw the chart on tumblr and I just had to share. It’s good that they did the study and published the findings around Oscar time, keeps things into perspective and reminds us that perhaps it doesn’t matter so much that some people get ‘snubbed’ given that the members don’t really represent the general public anyway.

  21. Interesting insights here Ruth. It comes to no surprise – I think the Hollywood film industry as a whole is a bit more conservative than we may all think. And, yes – there is definitely an exclusive club. Though, I think with the advent of indie films and the freedom of the internet – we are left with more choices today. I do have to admit, it’s a bit fun and entertaining to catch a glimpse of the Oscars even though sometimes I’ve been a bit thrown off by some of their picks!! 🙂

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