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Oscars 2012: Who really chooses the winners?

February 20, 2012 |  9:00 am

The Oscars, whose winners are announced on Sunday Feb. 26, are chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But who is this group made up of? And what do members like Denzel Washington, Frank Pierson and others think of its level of diversity?
Nearly 40 million Americans are expected to tune in to the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. But although most of those viewers will have a sense of which films they'd like to see win Oscars, very few know much about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that chooses them.

Although the group does not publish a membership list, The Times conducted a months-long investigation to uncover just who the members are and where they come from.

Oscar voters studyIn confirming the membership of nearly 90% of the prestigious organization, we found out that the academy, currently made up of 5,765 voting members, is more monolithic than even skeptics might assume: The median age is 62, and only 14% of its membership is under the age of 50. Less than 4% of the academy is black or Latino.

We also learned that the membership isn't always what you'd expect. Acclaimed filmmakers such as Woody Allen and George Lucas are not in the academy, while less Oscar-friendly personalities such as Pee-wee Herman, Meat Loaf and Erik Estrada are part of the group. (You can learn more about our methodology here.)

We've designed a package, titled "Unmasking the Academy," that reveals our findings.

For an interactive look at the group's demographics, head over to our clickable matrix of voters.

For a sampling of views on how the academy should diversify -- from Denzel Washington ("If the country is 12% black, make the academy 12% black") to filmmaker and former academy president Frank Pierson ("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") click on our main story about academy demographics.

For a look at some unexpected members - -hint: Vin Diesel, Steve Guttenberg and Lorenzo Lamas -- check out our inquiry into academy surprises.

And for profiles of some of the quirky and notable members -- from Madonna to Haley Joel Osment, a Peace Corps veteran to the owner of a mystery book store -- take a look at our snapshots of some of the more eclectic members of the organization.


Unmasking the Academy: Snapshots of membership

Unmasking the Academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male

Unmasking the Academy: Who's who in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: An Oscar statue shrouded in plastic. Credit: Mark Ralson / AFP/Getty images

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