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Why boycott the Oscars? Film critic Rafer Guzmán answers frequently-asked Academy Awards questions


Ever wonder why the statuettes are called an Oscar? Or how much a statuette is worth? Well, we looked into it so you can impress your friends at that Oscar viewing party you'll be hitting on Sunday night. (Credit: AP)

The Oscars can be a bit of a mystery. Ever wondered how a movie gets nominated, or who does the nominating? Or, for that matter, where the name Oscar comes from? Here are the answers to some frequently asked Oscar questions.

Who awards the Oscars?

The Oscars are awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was founded in 1927 by Louis B. Mayer and others to improve the film industry’s image. In 1928, the group came up with the idea of handing out “awards of merit,” the forerunners of what we now call the Academy Awards.

Why is the statuette called an Oscar?

No one really knows. The most popular story is that Margaret Herrick, the academy librarian (and later an executive director), thought it resembled her uncle Oscar. At any rate, the nickname seemed to gain popularity in the early 1930s, and the academy officially adopted it in 1939.

Who can become an academy member?

According to the academy’s website, membership is “limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically released motion pictures.” Candidates must be sponsored by two academy members, although any Oscar nominee is considered eligible without sponsorship.

Who are the current academy members?

The academy does not give out much information about its members. In 2012, however, the Los Angeles Times published the results of a study showing that of the approximately 5,100 Oscar voters, 94 percent were Caucasian, 77 percent were male and 54 percent were over the age of 60.

What is the academy doing about its lack of diversity?

In response to the current controversy over the second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees, the academy announced that it would change some membership rules in order to make its voting membership “significantly more diverse.” Beginning later this year, a new member’s voting status will last 10 years and must be renewed by staying active in motion pictures at least once during that period. Those who do not qualify will become “emeritus” members without the ability to vote.

How does Oscar voting work?

Generally speaking, members in each branch of the academy — editors, directors and so on — cast votes in their particular category. The voting process is not exactly the same for every category, however, and can be very complicated. (The complete rules for this year’s Oscars is a document that runs 35 pages.) For example, the nominees for best picture — the only category in which all active members may vote — are the films that received the highest number of votes, but no film can be nominated if it earns less than 5 percent of the total votes cast. This explains why the best picture category sometimes contains fewer than 10 nominees.

How much is an Oscar statuette worth?

Oscar winners own their statuettes, but with one caveat: According an academy regulation that dates to the early 1950s, an Oscar cannot be sold without first being offered back to the academy for the sum of $1. The academy has filed a number of lawsuits over this issue, including one against Orson Welles’ daughter for auctioning her father’s 1941 screenplay Oscar for “Citizen Kane.” (The academy lost.) At least twice, Steven Spielberg has purchased Oscars at auctions — he paid $578,000 for Bette Davis’s “Jezebel” award and $607,500 for Clark Gable’s “It Happened One Night” award — and donated them back to the academy.

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