Pictured: Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the President of the Academy. A member of the Public Relations Branch, she and her colleagues play an essential role in the way that movies are received by the public. It was Isaacs’ team, for example, that decided that the iconic picture of Tom Hanks sitting on a bench should be the key publicity image to represent best picture winner Forrest Gump, a sweeping decades-long historical fiction that could have potentially been received in any number of ways.
The Academy’s Branches
The Academy is divided into 17 branches, with three additional classifications for At Large Members (who get to vote for the Oscars), and Associate and Retired Members (who do NOT get to vote on the Oscars):
While the total number of Academy member is either 7,562 or 7,686 (Steve Pond’s latest numbers published in The Wrap on 12/23/2016 have some inconsistencies that leave out 124 people), most news organizations assume that the general public is only interested in members who can vote for the Oscars, and so they leave out the Retired and Associate members. This is why you will often see it reported that there are 6,687 voting members from the 17 branches and the At-Large members:
While the picture above is factually accurate, I sometimes wonder if it contributes to misunderstandings about the Academy. For the general public who is already accustomed to associating films primarily with their actors, it is perhaps too easy to lose sight of the potential impact of the smaller branches. Yes, actors make up the largest single branch, but they are still only 17% of the voting membership.
To keep myself from falling into this trap, I have begun imagining the branches in clusters. It’s not a perfect system, but the chart below reminds me to think about the Academy in different ways. For example, when I combine the producers, executives and public relations branches, they collectively make up a larger voting bloc than the actors do, lest I forget that the movie industry is as much about business as it is about art. Similarly, while the technical and craft artists may be broken up into different branches, they constitute a greater proportion of the Academy than the famous directors that get labeled as auteurs. And while documentarians, animators and musicians may not have that much in common, it would be foolish to completely disregard the number of Oscar votes that come from the top left quarter of this chart.
(Numbers retrieved from The Wrap 12/23/2016)
Actors Branch: 1158 Members.
Casting Directors Branch: 99 Members
Cinematographers Branch: 240 Members.
Costume Designers Branch: 117 Members.
Designers Branch: 295 Members. Includes art directors, production designers and set decorators.
Directors Branch: 473 Members.
Documentary Branch: 277 Members.
Executives Branch: 468 Members.
Film Editors Branch: 274 Members.
Makeup Artists And Hairstylists Branch: 157 Members.
Music Branch: 279 Members.
Producers Branch: 504 Members.
Public Relations Branch: 389 Members.
Short Films And Feature Animation Branch: 479 Members.
Sound Branch: 456 Members.
Visual Effects Branch: 383 Members.
Writers Branch: 406 Members.
At Large Members: 233 Members. Includes stunt coordinators and production managers.
Associate Members: 189 Members. Includes talent agents and those who have contributed to the movie industry or the Academy in ways that don’t fit into the branches above. (Note that these members do not vote on the Oscars)
Retired Members: 686 Members. (Note that these members do not vote on the Oscars)
Learn about the development of the Academy’s Branch History.
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