Membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts

How Do You Become an Oscar Voter?

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the Best Actor award for 'The Revenant'
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Film fans have questioned the decision-making process of the voters for the Academy Awards, especially if you believe an Oscar was awarded to a film or a performer who didn't deserve it as much as one that you personally preferred. So how do you become an Oscar voter? You have to be a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences in order to become a voter.

By Invitation Only 

Membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is by invitation only, and up until recently only a limited number of individuals are invited per year to keep the Academy's membership at roughly 5,800 voting members. Current Academy members propose candidates for membership, and those candidates are considered for membership by one of the 17 Academy branch committees. The largest (22% of membership) is the acting branch, and other branches include Casting Directors, Costume Designers, Executives, Producers, Film Editors, and Documentary Filmmakers. Two members of each branch committee have to back a candidate in order for that candidate to be submitted to the Academy's Board of Governors for final approval. If a candidate is nominated by multiple branches – such as a filmmaker being nominated by both the Directors branch and the Screenwriters branch – he or she must choose one branch to be a member of.

If they are not already members, Academy Award nominees have a faster track to membership. Nominees are automatically considered for membership (but not guaranteed an invitation to join) the year following their nomination. For example, first-time nominees Brie Larson, Mark Rylance, and Alicia Vikander, who each won Oscars for acting in 2016, were all invited to join the Academy later that year (the other acting award winner, Leonardo DiCaprio, had already been a member of the Academy for some time because of his many previous nominations).

In 2013, the Academy invited 276 new members to join their ranks. In 2014, the Academy invited 271 new members. 2015 saw an uptick of 322 new members. Over the last decade, the Academy has become more selective when it comes to accepting new members – membership has dropped from 6,500 to roughly 5,800 members.

However, being too selective has led to criticism. The Academy has recently been derided for lack of diversity among its members -- as late as 2012, the Los Angeles Times revealed a study that discovered that the Academy voters are overwhelmingly Caucasian (94%), male (77%), and a majority were over the age of 60 (54%). The Academy has since stated its efforts to diversify the voters with future invitations. In fact, 2016 saw a much larger number of new invitees – 683, more than the two previous years combined. Many of the newest invitees are women, minorities, and non-U.S. citizens as the Academy attempts to diversify its membership. These new additions have pushed Academy membership to over 6000 again. However, it's unlikely that the Academy will invite as many new members in future years to keep the membership number around 6000.

In addition, following the "#OscarsSoWhite" controversy in 2016 – when all 20 acting nominees were white for the second year in a row – the Academy has enacted several controversial measures to strip long-time members deemed "inactive" (i.e., members who are no longer actively working in the film industry) of voting rights. Critics of these measures say that it is unfair for the Academy to assume older members of the Academy to be the source of the obvious diversity issues within the industry. What effect this will have on voting (if any) remains to be seen.

So, in short, it's not easy to become an Oscar voter. But if you have a dream to make it in Hollywood, there's a good chance you'll also get considered for Academy membership at some point along the way.