By: BRENDAN McDANIEL
Staff Movie Weirdo
This Sunday, movie lovers across the United States are going to be subjected to the Oscars, the single most needlessly extra event in American pop culture. I am not here to convince you that the Oscars are either good or bad.
The Hollywood elites who benefit from the Awards cannot agree on that themselves; Cary Grant, who younger readers may know better as their grandmother’s favorite actor, once said of the Awards, “there is something embarrassing about all these wealthy people publicly congratulating each other.”
However, in doing research for a separate joke column, I discovered an even bigger revelation. Whether they are culturally important or artistically embarrassing, the Academy Awards are a comedic goldmine of weird nonsense.
The identity of the proper Academy, or the people who Award the gold statues, is generally kept secret to the public. Even so, real journalists have managed to construct a reliable guess of who they are.
The Academy was founded in 1927 by multiple film industry leaders working alongside Louis B. Meyer, head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Mayer and 35 other industry executives “had the idea for a new industry organization for handling labor disputes… improving the public image of the film industry, and providing a common ground for the discussion of new production procedures and technologies.”
Though this description makes it sound as if a bunch of rich people decided to band together and improve working conditions in their industry out of the goodness of their hearts, it didn’t quite go according to plan.
According to Britannica, most pro-worker activity had come to an end within a decade. The Academy was, from the very beginning, by invitation only; if you got in, it was because other members of the Academy decided you had met specific criteria of a list they made up and that you had attained some level of achievement in whatever branch of the industry you work in.
Some of you may have already guessed the issue here. Given that the Academy has been around for nearly a century, and most social progress in the States has occurred in less time than that, what we end up with is a very homogenous industry.
The Los Angeles Times conducted a study in 2012 that was able to analyze roughly 90% of identified Academy members, and what we got was unfortunately about what you’d expect: a bunch of old white guys.
“Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male,” the study says, with “a median age of 62.” This is the cause attributed to why, in 2016, every nominee for the Academy’s acting awards was a white person for the second consecutive year. The Oscar voters simply didn’t nominate any actors of color to be voted on.
Now, I’m reasonably confident that there were, in fact, actors of color in those years, and that at least a few of them gave great performances, but what do I know, I’m not an Oscar voter.
That being said, the Academy has been hard at work to diversify its voting members.
The LA Times conducted a follow-up study in 2016, where their voters were found to be 91% Caucasian and 76% male. Great work, Academy!
Now, here’s where things start to get really weird. While not everyone takes the Awards too seriously, those who are responsible for them keep their work secret as if they were planning D-Day.
Brandi Hitt and Lesley Messer wrote a piece for ABC News (the network who broadcasts the Awards) in 2017 which outlined the process for how Oscar voting was conducted.
Once nominations are announced, electronic and paper ballots are sent out to the voters. These votes are accumulated and tallied by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the security firm who handles the Academy Awards.
The piece states that “a small group of PricewaterhouseCoopers employees counts each vote by hand at a secret location.” According to PwC executive Brian Cullinan, “each of our team members are only doing a portion of the total counting and myself and my fellow partner Martha are the only two who really know the winners.”
Bit excessive, but seems reasonable enough for a trade secret. At which point, Cullinan reveals this little tidbit: “We have a safe. We have multiple rooms with security and biometric locks and all kinds of things. Alarms that if doors are open for too long the LAPD shows up.”
They have multiple rooms with biometric locks, which call the cops if some goober forgets to shut the door. Presumably, “all kinds of things” also includes trapdoors, laser tripwires, and the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And in case you were wondering, Cullinan and Martha Ruiz can’t just tally votes out of a box like a normal person. The actual process is not explicitly laid out, and what is Hitt and Messer are a bit unclear on, but they appear to describe a preferential voting system comparable to single transferable voting and instant runoff voting.
These voting systems are ones used by multiple world governments, such as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and Hong Kong, for electing government officials, because of course that’s what the Academy had to use.
Cullinan and Ruiz also have multiple sets of winners cards created, destroy the ones that are made inaccurate as votes are tallied, and carry them to the event in briefcases with both of them taking separate routes with LAPD escorts.
Because what else would you do? The secrets Cullinan and Ruiz carry are the names of people who get to hold a tiny golden statue of a naked man; God knows what could happen if they fell into the wrong hands!
So what was the purpose of me reporting all of this? None, really. I have to be driven mad by knowing this, so now all of you do too.