Academy Awards®

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Academy Awards®



The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (©A.M.P.A.S.®) is a professional honorary organization with membership by invitation only, extended by its Board of Governors to distinguished contributors to the arts and sciences of motion pictures. The Academy (at its Web site, asserts seven purposes:

  1. Advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures
  2. Foster cooperation among creative leaders for cultural, educational and technological progress
  3. Recognize outstanding achievements
  4. Cooperate on technical research and improvement of methods and equipment
  5. Provide a common forum and meeting ground for various branches and crafts
  6. Represent the viewpoint of actual creators of the motion picture and
  7. Foster education activities between the professional community and the public at large.

To accomplish these goals, the Academy enlists its fourteen branches: actors, art directors, cinematographers, directors, documentary, executives, film editors, music, producers, public relations, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects, and writers. But while ©A.M.P.A.S.® represents over six thousand technical and artistic members of the motion picture industry and supports diverse educational and promotional activities, the general public knows the Academy primarily through its highly publicized Academy Awards®.

To merit invitation to membership in any category, an individual must have "achieved distinction in the arts and sciences of motion pictures," including, but not limited to, "film credits of a caliber which reflect the high standards of the Academy, receipt of an Academy Award® nomination, achievement of unique distinction, earning of special merit, or making of an outstanding contribution to film" ( At least two members of the nominee's respective branch must sponsor the candidate. The candidacy must then receive the endorsement of the pertinent branch's executive committee for submission to the Board of Governors. That Board consists of three representatives from each branch, except the documentary branch, which elects one governor. All terms run for three years.

At its discretion, the Board of Governors may also invite individuals to join ©A.M.P.A.S.® in the member-at-large or associate member categories, two distinctly different types of membership. Members-at-large are individuals working in theatrical film production but with no branch corresponding to their job responsibilities. They enjoy the same membership privileges, including the right to vote, as those in any of the fourteen designated branches, with one exception—members-at-large are ineligible for election to the Board of Governors. Similarly, associate members cannot serve on the Board. Composed of individuals "closely allied to the industry but not actively engaged in motion picture production," associate members vote only on branch policies and actions.

All members pay dues, except those who have been extended lifetime membership by unanimous approval of the Board. These exceptionally meritorious individuals enjoy all member privileges. Dues from all other members fund the operating revenue for Academy activities, in addition to income from other sources such as theater rentals and publication of the Players Directory. But financial health comes primarily from selling the rights to telecast the annual Award ceremonies. Known colloquially as "Oscar®," the Academy Award® statuette is recognized internationally as the most prestigious American award of the film industry; it is conferred annually for superior achievement in up to twenty-five technical and creative categories. Explicitly not involved in "economic, labor or political matters," ©A.M.P.A.S.®'s origins tell a dramatically different story, with the monumental importance of the Academy Awards® an unexpected outgrowth of the founders' intentions.


A decade of industry-wide labor struggles and bargaining debates culminated in nine Hollywood studios and five labor unions (carpenters, electricians, musicians, painters, and stagehands) signing the Studio Basic Agreement on 29 November 1926. Slightly over a month later, in January 1927, Louis B. Mayer (1882–1957), head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, spearheaded an effort to avert further unionization of motion picture workers, especially the major artistic groups not yet organized: writers, directors, and actors. Mayer pressed for a representative umbrella organization when he and three others—Fred Beetson, head of the Association of Motion Picture Producers; Conrad Nagel (1897–1970), Mayer contract actor; and Fred Niblo (1874–1948), MGM director—met on 1 January 1927 to discuss business issues and the possibility of a "mutually beneficial" industry organization (Holden, p. 86). Sound films waited in the wings, conservative groups had strong community support and threatened increasing censorship pressure, and the economics of the business always merited attention and concern.

A second meeting on 11 January led to the initiation of articles of nonprofit incorporation, and on 4 May 1927 California legally established the Academy charter. In its mission statement, published 20 June 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formed "to improve the artistic quality of the film medium, provide a common forum for the various branches and crafts of the industry, foster cooperation in technical research and cultural progress, and pursue a variety of other stated objectives." On the labor front, the Academy founders' preemptive action achieved only temporary success. The Screen Writers Guild organized on 6 April 1933; the Screen Actors Guild followed suit, with twenty-one actors filing articles of incorporation on 30 June with membership "open to all" as opposed to "by invitation only" (; and the Directors Guild of America encouraged an Awards boycott by all the guilds in January 1936, all after continuing labor disputes.

The conferring of "awards of merit for distinctive achievements" appears in the last half of goal five of the Academy's seven original goals. In fact, with the transition to sound under way at full throttle, the Academy did play a significant role in technical innovation and training. But almost as quickly, the Academy Awards® emerged as public relations jewels for studios and individuals. In July 1928 the Academy first solicited Award nominations in twelve categories for the period from 1 August 1927 through 31 July 1928. The top ten nominees went to judges representing the five Academy branches. Each branch in turn forwarded three names to a centralized board, which then chose and announced the fifteen winners, who received their Awards at an anniversary dinner in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on 16 May 1929. At a cost of $10 each, 250 guests attended the Awards dinner, where Wings took Best Picture; Janet Gaynor (1906–1984) was named Best Actress for three roles: Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise; and Emil Jannings (1884–1950) was awarded Best Actor for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. For the first fifteen years, winners received their Oscars® at private dinners. By the second Awards ceremonies, on 30 April 1930 (with seven awards bestowed), media coverage began with a live, hour-long, local radio broadcast; the entire ceremony was broadcast the following year, on 3 April 1931 (Levy, All About Oscar®, p. 29). Interest continued to escalate thereafter. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke via radio to the Academy in 1941, President Harry Truman sent greetings in 1949, and President Ronald Reagan (former Screen Actors Guild president) provided a prerecorded video greeting in 1981. National coverage began in 1945; the first televised presentation of the Awards ceremonies took place on 19 March 1953.

On three occasions the Academy has postponed, but never canceled, the Awards show. In 1938 floods caused a one-week postponement; in 1968 the Academy postponed the ceremonies for two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; and in 1981 the Academy delayed the ceremony for one day because of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. During the "blacklisting" period of the 1950s, political events altered policy: the Academy ruled in February 1957 that any past or present member of the Communist Party and anyone who refused a Congressional subpoena was ineligible for any Academy Award®.Just under two years later, in January 1959, the Academy repealed that policy.


In early January, the Academy solicits nominations for "awards of merit" for an individual or a collaborative effort in up to twenty-five categories. To be eligible for nomination, each responsible production agency must submit an alphabetized list of qualified films to the Academy. Beginning in 1934, the calendar year determines the eligibility period during which any potential nominee must have a theatrical run for a minimum of one week in Los Angeles. While most nominees now also show in New York, this venue is not required.

From these lists, members of technical and artistic branches nominate within their category; that is, editors nominate editors, producers nominate producers, and so on. In each category, up to five nominations may be accepted. Nominations for best foreign-language film, defined as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States with a predominantly non-English dialogue track, follow a different procedure, as do the documentary nominations. Foreign countries, following their own individual procedures, submit one film for consideration as their entry in the Best Foreign Film category, and the foreign film eligibility period runs from 1 November to 31 October instead of the calendar year. A committee representing all Academy branches selects up to five finalists for the Best Foreign Film award, and all members vote for the recipient.

Divided into two categories, documentary candidates also follow different rules. Among other stipulations, feature documentaries (more than forty minutes in length) must be submitted with accompanying certification of theatrical exhibition for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater, and such exhibition must be within two years of the film's completion date. Short-subject documentaries (under forty minutes) may qualify after theatrical exhibition or by winning a Best Documentary Award at a competitive film festival. Documentary candidates eligible for nomination are viewed by the documentary branch screening committee, which then nominates no more than five and no fewer than three candidates for the Oscar®. Only lifetime and active Academy members who view all contenders at a theatrical screening and the members of the screening committee vote for the documentary category. By contrast, nominations for Best Film are solicited from all members, regardless of their branch affiliation. In its earliest years, Academy practices varied; upon occasion, industry workers and guild members also nominated or voted, and occasionally write-ins were accepted on Oscar® ballots.

Categories for the Academy Awards® have changed over the decades. In 1934 the Academy added the categories of Film Editing, Music Scoring, and Best Song. Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories were included in 1936, the Best Documentary category in 1941, and, most recently, the Animated Feature Film category in 2001.

Beginning in 2005, the Academy announces nominations in the last week of January and mails Award of Merit ballots in early February with a two-week return deadline. Coding prevents forgeries, and Price water house Coopers (formerly Price Waterhouse and Company, an accounting firm, which began work for the Academy in 1936) enforces top-secret measures to maintain confidentiality. In fact, only two PricewaterhouseCoopers partners know the results before public announcement during the annual telecast of the Awards ceremony. Until 1941, the press received several hours advance notice of awardees, but beginning that year the Academy added the element of surprise: both press and public learn the winners when the envelopes are opened. In response to other attention-grabbing award ceremonies, the Academy moved its ceremony from March to February in 2005. Attendance at the Awards ceremony is by invitation; no tickets are sold by the Academy.


Officially referred to as the "Academy Award® of Merit," the 13½-inch, 8½-pound statuette awarded to each individual who wins an Academy Award® takes twelve workers five hours to hand cast and complete at R. S. Owens, the factory in Chicago, Illinois, that has been responsible for production since 1982. The carefully protected steel mold gives shape to a britannium alloy, roughly 90 percent tin and 10 percent antimony, though initially Oscar® was solid bronze. Because of rationing during World War II, the Academy used plaster, but, at the war's conclusion, the plaster statuettes were replaced with gold-plated replicas. Today, with sanding and polishing each step of the way, the statue receives layers of copper, nickel, silver, and, finally, 24–karat gold plating. A layer of epoxy lacquer provides the protective outer coating. Each statue bears its own serial number engraved at the bottom, at the back of its base, which has been made of brass since 1945 (it was black Belgian marble before that date). After the recipients have been announced, R. S. Owens then produces brass nameplates with the winner's name and category.

The famed MGM art director Cedric Gibbons (1893–1960) designed the statuette, and sculptor George Stanley was paid $500 to shape the model in clay. Alex Smith cast the design in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper, finishing it with gold plating. Gibbons's original design was a knight holding a double-edged sword, standing on a film reel with five spokes, each spoke representing one of the original five Academy branches: producers, directors, writers, technicians, and actors. The Academy has retained the original design, though it has altered the pedestal, increasing its height in 1945. On several unique occasions, the award took slightly different forms. In 1937 (the Tenth Awards), ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's Oscar® statuette sported a movable jaw, an homage to his Charlie McCarthy dummy. Honoring Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938, an amused Walt Disney received a standard Oscar® statuette and seven miniatures.

Accounts vary as to the origins of the nickname (the "Oscar® ") for the Academy statuette. Those who have claimed to have invented the appellation include actress Bette Davis (1908–1989), librarian Margaret Herrick, and columnist Sidney Skolsky (1905–1983). Davis is said to have claimed that the image reminded her of her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson's backside, so she dubbed the icon "Oscar®." Another version comes from Margaret Herrick, who began working for the Academy as librarian in 1931 and then as executive director from 1943 until her retirement in 1971. Herrick remembers calling the statuette Oscar® because it resembled her second cousin Oscar Pierce, whom she called her "Uncle Oscar." In yet another widely disseminated account, syndicated gossip columnist and entertainment reporter (later scriptwriter and producer) Sidney Skolsky offers his own ownership tale, a purely utilitarian desire to give the statue a name for ease in writing his column and to confer a personality without suggesting an excess of dignity. Whatever its derivation, Skolsky used the nickname "Oscar®" in his column in 1934 and Walt Disney used it in his acceptance speech in 1938. The Academy did not use the Oscar® appellation officially before 1939, by which time it had gained the wide currency it still enjoys.


©A.M.P.A.S.® may, at its discretion, vote additional awards, and it began doing so from the Academy's inception. These special awards are initiated at a designated meeting of the Board of Governors. The board itself nominates or accepts nominations for special awards from area committees, for example, the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. The Board of Governors votes on conferring special awards through a secret ballot.

For the first Academy Awards® in 1927–1928, the Board created a special award for Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) for The Circus, which he produced, wrote, starred in, and directed. An Honorary Award went to Warner Bros. for the studio's groundbreaking work on sound technology, exemplified by The Jazz Singer. In 1978 Garrett Brown received an Award of Merit for the invention and development of Steadicam technology. Though the Board of Governors has created a variety of special awards over the decades, it now regularly bestows several established awards. Recipients of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, and the Special Achievement Award all receive Oscar® statuettes. A special award may be presented as an Oscar® statuette, or it may take another form; for example, Scientific and Engineering Award recipients are given a plaque, and the Technical Achievement Award winners receive a certificate. The special awards include the following.

The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award:

Established in 1956, this award is named in honor of the silent-era actor Jean Hersholt (1886–1956), who was famous for his philanthropic work. It is awarded to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry." At a special meeting, after nominations, the first ballot narrows the field to the candidate with the highest number of votes. On a second secret ballot, this individual must tally two-thirds approval by the Governors in attendance to receive the award. Past winners of this award include Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993), Bob Hope (1903–2003), Quincy Jones (b. 1933), Paul Newman (b. 1925), Gregory Peck (1916–2003), and Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932).

Honorary Award:

Given most years, the Honorary Award is voted to individuals showing "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy." This award may also honor an individual for whom no annual Academy Award® category fits; for example, honorary awards went to choreographer Michael Kidd in 1996 and animator Chuck Jones in 1995. An Honorary Award may also be voted to an organization or a company. In 1988 the National Film Board of Canada received this award in the organization category and Eastman Kodak in the company category. Also, though not often, two Honorary Awards may be given in the same year; for example, in 1995 Kirk Douglas and Chuck Jones both received Honorary Award Oscars®, as did Sophia Loren and Myrna Loy in 1990. Though not labeled a lifetime achievement award, it is often given for a life's work in filmmaking, as it was in 1998 to American director Elia Kazan and in 1999 to Polish director Andzrej Wajda.

The Honorary Award may take the shape of the familiar Oscar® statuette, in which case it is presented during the yearly telecast, or it may be conferred as life membership in the Academy, a scroll, a medal, a certificate, or any other form chosen by the Board. The Medal of Commendation, established in 1977, is another version of the Honorary Award voted for "outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy." The Scientific and Technical Awards Committee forwards nominees for this award to the Governors. After 1997 this award, a bronze medallion, has carried the name of legendary sound engineer John A. Bonner, a 1994 recipient who died in 1996. Except for the Oscar® statuette, these Honorary Awards are usually presented at the annual dinner ceremony for Scientific and Technical Awards.

Gordon E. Sawyer Honorary Award:

Named for the head of the sound department at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, who was a member of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee from 1936 to 1977, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award (an Oscar® statuette) aims to honor "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry." The Scientific and Technical Awards Committee usually recommends candidates for this award to the Board.

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award:

Given when the Board designates a deserving recipient, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award goes to "a creative producer who has been responsible for a consistently high quality of motion picture production." It is named for Irving Grant Thalberg (1899–1936), who produced films from the early 1920s until his death in 1936. At twenty years of age, he became production head at Universal Film Manufacturing and, three years later, vice president and supervisor of production for Louis B. Mayer. The following year Mayer affiliated as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where Thalberg continued his production responsibilities for eight years, until his untimely death from pneumonia at age thirty-seven. In 1937 the Academy inaugurated the Thalberg Memorial Award by honoring producer Darryl F. Zanuck (1902–1979). Instead of an Oscar® statuette, the awardee receives a solid bronze head of Thalberg on a black marble base. Two earlier versions were superseded in 1961 by the sculpture designed in 1957 by Gualberto Rocchi, weighing 10 ¾ pounds and standing 9 inches tall.

Scientific and Technical Awards:

After receiving recommendations from outstanding technicians and scientists in the cinema field, the Governors evaluate potential recipients. In contrast to the Special Achievement Award that may be given for an exceptional contribution to one film, the Scientific and Technical Awards are conferred on individuals who have initiated proven, long-standing innovations. These awards are given during a special dinner, separate from, and in advance of, the annual Oscar® telecast, during which these awards are usually acknowledged.

Special Achievement Award:

Instituted in 1972, the Special Achievement Award, an Oscar® statuette, is voted when an achievement makes an exceptional contribution to the motion picture for which it was created, but for which there is no annual award category. In contrast to the Honorary Award, the Special Achievement Award can be conferred only for achievements in films that qualify for that year's eligibility requirements. In most instances (13 of 17 times before 2005), visual or sound effects have been singled out as exemplary achievements deserving acknowledgment. Its four other honorees were: Benjamin Burtt Jr. for the alien, creature, and robot voices in Star Wars (1977); Alan Splet for sound editing of The Black Stallion (1979); animation director Richard Williams for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988); and John Lasseter "for his inspired leadership of the Pixar Toy Story team, resulting in the first feature-length computer-animated film" (1995).


The Academy continues its original aim of offering seminars for training and dissemination of technical information. The Nicholls Fellowships in Screenwriting provide

b. Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Hartford, Connecticut, 12 May 1907, d. 29 June 2003

A legend for her prodigious talent and lengthy career, which stretched from the 1930s through the early 1990s, Katharine Hepburn has been voted more Academy Awards® than any other actor (as of 2005), though Meryl Streep holds the record (13) for nominations. Of Hepburn's twelve nominations for Best Actress, she received four Awards: Morning Glory, her first nomination (1933); Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967); The Lion in Winter (1968); and On Golden Pond (1981), forty-nine years after her first Oscar®. The Academy also nominated her for Alice Adams (1935); The Philadelphia Story (1940), which earned her the New York Film Critics' Best Actress award; Woman of the Year (1942); The African Queen (1951); Summertime (1955); The Rainmaker (1956); Suddenly, Last Summer (1959); and Long Day's Journey into Night (1962), for which she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Following her initial popularity in the early 1930s, Hepburn became known as a feisty, outspoken nonconformist who refused to capitulate to studio publicity demands, gaining a reputation in the mid- to late 1930s as "box office poison." Today her films from this period retain immense appeal, and she seems an independent, intelligent woman forging ahead of social customs (she became infamous for wearing pants) and eschewing demure demeanor. Demonstrating her extraordinary range, Hepburn starred in comedies and dramas as well as theatrical adaptations for television and cinema in her later years. For example, she displays dazzling comic timing and airy grace in the screwball comedy classics Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Holiday (1938), as well as in The Philadelphia Story. Her extraordinary intensity and poignant emotional appeal are evident in Suddenly, Last Summer and Long Day's Journey into Night. Hepburn's fourth Academy Award®nomination singled out her performance in Woman of the Year, the first pairing of Hepburn with Spencer Tracy. Hepburn starred with him in a total of nine successful films, most of them addressing topical issues such as gender equality (Adam's Rib, 1949) and racism (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner). The latter film featured Tracy's final appearance, for which the Academy nominated him posthumously; Hepburn won her second Oscar®.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors (multiple Emmy and Tony Award nominations, voted top-ranking woman in the American Film Institute's greatest movie legends, lifetime tributes), Hepburn remained unimpressed with all awards, never attending an Academy Awards® event as a nominee, though she did contribute a filmed greeting for the Fortieth Academy Awards® ceremonies in 1967, the year she won for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Despite these slights, Hepburn received a standing ovation when she finally appeared in person at the Forty-sixth Academy Awards® show (1973) to present the Irving G. Thalberg Award to her friend and producer Lawrence Weingarten, with whom she had worked on Without Love (1945), Adam's Rib, and Pat and Mike (1952).


Christopher Strong (1933), Morning Glory (1933), Alice Adams (1935), Stage Door (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), Adam's Rib (1949), The African Queen (1951), Pat and Mike (1952), Summertime (1955), The Rainmaker (1956), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Long Day's Journey into Night (1962), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), On Golden Pond (1981)


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Britton, Andrew. Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist. London: Studio Vista, 1995.

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Hepburn, Katharine. Me: Stories of My Life. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Leaming, Barbara. Katharine Hepburn. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995.

Diane Carson

support for writers. The Center for Motion Picture Study, home of the Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive, provides extensive motion picture resources for scholarly research as well as facilities for film screenings and the Academy Foundation Lecture Series. The Academy Foundation, under the auspices of ©A.M.P.A.S.®, coordinates scholarships, college student Academy Awards®, and film preservation.


Responding to dramatic technological changes, especially those introduced by digital manipulation, ©A.M.P.A.S.®'s Board of Governors officially created the Academy Science and Technology Council in 2003. The Council's mission includes four goals: to advance the science of motion pictures and foster cooperation for technological progress in support of the art; to sponsor publications and foster educational activities that facilitate understanding of historical and new developments both within the industry and for the wider public audience; to preserve the history of the science and technology of motion pictures; and to provide a forum and common meeting ground for the exchange of information and to promote cooperation among divergent technological interests, with the objective of increasing the quality of the theatrical motion picture experience. In addition, the Council serves as a resource for the Scientific and Technical Awards program, though the Council itself does not administer them.


In its history, only three films have swept all five of the most important Academy Awards®: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing. It Happened One Night first accomplished this feat in 1934 for director Frank Capra, actress Claudette Colbert, actor Clark Gable, and writer Robert Riskin (for Best Writing Adaptation). Over forty years later, in 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest swept the Awards for director Milos Forman, actress Louise Fletcher, actor Jack Nicholson, and writers Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman (Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material). In 1991 The Silence of the Lambs became the third film to achieve this landmark for director Jonathan Demme, actress Jodie Foster, actor Anthony Hopkins, and writer Ted Tally (Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium).

Other films have won more Oscars®. The record as of 2005 was held by three films that each won eleven Academy Awards®: Ben-Hur, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1959 (12 nominations); Titanic, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount, 1997 (14 nominations); and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New Line, 2003 (11 nominations). Only two films have received fourteen nominations: Titanic and All About Eve (1950), which took home six awards. Meryl Streep (b. 1949) holds the record for the most acting award nominations (13); Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) remains the only actress to have achieved the feat of four Best Actress Oscars®. Bette Davis follows the record holders, with ten nominations and two Oscars®. Jack Nicholson holds the Academy record among male actors, with twelve nominations and three Oscars®. Laurence Olivier (1907–1989) received ten nominations and one Oscar®. As of 2005, forty-seven actors had received five or more Oscar® nominations.

Among legendary directors, William Wyler (1902–1981) received twelve nominations, seven in the consecutive years from 1936 to 1942, and three Oscars®. However, John Ford (1894–1973) holds the most Best Director Awards, at four out of five nominations. It should be noted that many individuals in other areas (costume design, cinematography, art direction) have received many more nominations; for example, art director Cedric Gibbons received thirty-eight nominations and won eleven times, and costume designer Edith Head (1897–1981) won eight of the thirty-five times that she was nominated.

Five times the Academy has declared a tie. At the Fifth Awards in 1931–1932, a tie occurred for the Best Actor Award between Wallace Beery for The Champ and Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though technically March received one more vote (at the time, fewer than a three-vote difference equaled a tie). In 1949 A Chance to Live and So Much for So Little tied for the Documentary (Short Subject) Oscar®. And in 1968 Katharine Hepburn, for The Lion in Winter, and Barbra Streisand, for Funny Girl, tied for Best Actress. In 1986 the Documentary (Feature) went to Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got and Down and Out in America. And in 1994 Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life and Trevor shared the Short Film (Live Action) Oscar®.


Several amusing incidents have interrupted the Awards, while more serious issues have also troubled them, including inequalities in gender and minority representation. On a light note, one of the funniest moments came in 1973, when a streaker upstaged David Niven's introduction of Elizabeth Taylor to present the Best Picture Award. Niven got the last laugh by commenting on the man's "showing his shortcomings."

Upon occasion, recipients have refused the award, the first being Dudley Nichols, who declined the honor of his Best Writing, Screenplay Oscar® for The Informer (1935). He thereby asserted his solidarity with the Writers' Guild, which was involved in a protracted labor dispute with the studios. In 1970 George C. Scott rejected his Oscar® because of what he termed the "offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt" process (Holden, p. 60). Perhaps the most famous rejection occurred in 1973, when Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Award for his performance in The Godfather. Not in attendance, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather (a Native American actress, born Maria Cruz) to the podium to denounce America's mistreatment of Native Americans on and off the screen. But the overwhelming majority of nominees embrace the award, even at times mounting aggressive self-promotion campaigns that have cost huge sums. Academy regulations endeavor to "maintain a high degree of fairness and dignity" in its practices.

The most serious critiques of the Academy Awards® involve charges of sexist and racist practices. Throughout its entire history, as of 2005, no black or female director has ever received an Academy Award® for Best Director, and only one black director was ever nominated (John Singleton in 1992 for Boyz N the Hood). In 2002 a milestone occurred when Sidney Poitier received an Honorary Award and three of the ten acting nominations went to African Americans: Halle Berry, for Monster's Ball; Denzel Washington, for Training Day, and Will Smith, for Ali. Berry and Washington won (his second Oscar®; he had been named Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Glory in 1989). Three black actors (Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson for Sounder and Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues) had been nominated in 1972. But until 2002 Sidney Poitier was the only African American to have won a Best Actor Oscar® (in 1963 for Lilies of the Field), and only four African Americans had won Supporting Actor Oscars®. Lack of adequate minority representation in acting and throughout the movie industry led to picketing in 1962 and a call by social activist Reverend Jesse Jackson to boycott the Awards in 1996.

The other serious criticism of the Academy and the industry it represents involves prejudice against women. Only two women have received Best Director nominations (Jane Campion, for The Piano, in 1993, and Sofia Coppola, for Lost in Translation, in 2003) and no woman has ever received the award. Because of the small percentage of women working in the industry—except in acting—the disproportionate male representation for Award nominations and winners is unlikely to change, unless membership in the branches becomes more equitable.

Academy analysts conclude that in some years Awards have been voted for performances or achievements less deserving than a previous year's unrewarded accomplishment. Without question, popularity and politics factor into the voting. And yet, because of the Oscar's® international prestige, because it means millions in earned income to individuals' careers and films' earnings, and because of the palpable excitement for each year's ceremony, professional and amateur alike will continue to second-guess, handicap, and watch the Awards, often unaware of the Academy's myriad activities. Several other countries have organizations similar to the Academy, which also bestow annual awards. For example, the British Academy of Film and Television votes yearly awards officially called the Orange British Academy Film Award, known colloquially as the BAFTA after its parent organization. The French Motion Picture Academy bestows the César. The People's Republic of China votes the Golden Rooster (first bestowed in 1981, a year of the rooster), and the Italian film industry votes the David di Donatello Award. But there is no organization that carries the prestige of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and no award so important to the film industry as the Oscar®.

SEE ALSO Festivals;Prizes and Awards


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Diane Carson

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