Numlock Awards: How the Actors lost power, and how the world gained it.

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Walter.

Right now, Academy ballots are out, with branches voting to nominate people from their categories and everyone voting on Best Picture.

I wanted to take this weekend to go into a fascinating change that’s happened over the course of the past ten years as it relates to the Academy. As I’ve mentioned, this year is a key inflection point for the organization, a year when I believe that the number of members inducted after 2011 now actually exceeds the number of members who were in AMPAS in 2011.

While the old guard and the young guard is one story of that shift, there has been a significant swing in branch power I wanted to highlight. Namely, in the Academy’s pursuit of growth over the past several years, lots of powerful branches have lost in aggregate a lot of voting power to some of the other branches.

I think that this is a really important issue for the following reason: people don’t actually really get how the Academy has changed. Every year, when the new members are rolled out, the conversation is invariably on the acting branch, because actors are well-known people and the inclusion of specifically non-white actors is a significant effort in Hollywood.

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the transformation of the Academy. In 2011, there were 1,172 actors in the Acting branch of the Academy. Today, there are 1,363, a net increase of 191 people over 10 years, increasing 16 percent.

That’s nothing.

The Documentary branch went from 166 people to 597 over the same period, adding 431 people and increasing 250 percent in size. Short films and feature animation went from 349 to 823, a 135 percent increase. The VFX branch doubled to 587 members, the members-at-large rose 121 percent to 544 people, makeup and hair is up 85 percent, I could (and will!) go on. The Actors branch growing 16 percent is rookie numbers, and the rest of the Academy significantly outpaced them.

As a result, setting aside pre-2011 and post-2011, there’s been a serious shift in the voting composition of the Academy.

(Quick note: there were two branch changes over the past decade, with the Designers branch splitting into Production Design and Costume Design, and the Casting Directors spinning off from the Members-at-Large. For this analysis I’m just keeping everyone in their 2011 groupings to keep everything apples to apples.)

First up, looking at the net change in branch sizes, over the past decade five branches really increased in size and power:

In 2011, the Visual Effects, Short films and Feature Animation, Members At Large and Documentary branches were about 18 percent of the Academy. Over the next decade, they would account for about 46 percent of all net new members added into AMPAS. As a result, the four — plus Casting, spun out of At-Large — now account for 29 percent of the Academy.

Meanwhile, many branches kept pace with the overall growth of the organization:

All of these branches saw their relative weight in AMPAS stay within 1 percentage point of what it was ten years ago. They combined to be 40 percent of the vote in 2011, they were about 36 percent of the new blood added to the organization since, and today they’re 39 percent of the vote.

The growth of the Visual Effects, Short Films and Feature Animation, Members At Large, Casting and Documentary branches came at the expense of four branches who have lost about 10 percent of their vote share in the Academy:

These branches combined to 41 percent of the Academy in 2011. However, they were only a fifth of the growth of the group in the past decade, and today are just 32 percent. The majority of the 9 percentage point aggregate transfer of power came out of the Acting branch, which in 2011 had about 20.3 percent of the AMPAS vote and today holds 14.6 percent, a 5.7 percentage point loss.

That all said here’s basically the power shift over the past 10 years:

There are a lot of implications here. The way that the Academy votes on Best Picture is such that slight shifts in power can have amplified effects. I think the Members-at-Large branch is fascinating and that’s the analysis you’re going to get next weekend. I think that the short film and feature animation, visual effects, and documentary branches also have developed a much larger international footprint over the past 10 years.

That last bit gets at the AMPAS long game, I think. My argument is that the people who run the Oscars realized that their most significant long-term liability was not reflecting global film. As it stands, the Academy Awards are a prestigious global prize in film, however, if it’s just a bunch of people in New York and Los Angeles picking the winners, that’s going to be an enormous problem for them maintaining global legitimacy in years down the line. So a significant, under-covered component of their diversity push has been representing global film, inviting them into the club a bit. There is a reason that in their announcement of the Class of 2020 they highlighted that the group was 49 percent international, from 68 countries.

That may also be why they are strenuously specific when they say that 36 percent of new members in 2020 were from “underrepresented ethnic/racial communities in the organization.” An American reading that in a post-#OscarsSoWhite world may think it sounds similar to “African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos and other underrepresented American minority groups,” but that isn’t actually what it’s saying.

The Academy may be responding to demands in the way the American film industry treats underrepresented groups, but that progress is a side effect of their main work, which has been to simply make the organization more globally focused.

How will the branch power shifts actually shift the Academy’s thinking? It’s not like we’ve seen a documentary, animated film, or VFX-heavy feature start dominating the Best Picture nominees. No, I think we’re seeing it a little more implicitly in the globalization of the races. Roma and Parasite, both foreign-language films, had excellent Oscar runs, with the latter becoming the first Best International Feature nominee to win the prize. I thought it was weird that none of the Parasite actors got a nomination, but then again, while the Actors branch has been growing, it hasn’t been growing the same way as the rest of the Academy.

Numlock Awards: The Post-Globes State of the Race

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Walter.

Incidentally, today is remarkable for reasons beyond the Globes; it’s the last day for BAFTA nominations voting, and so it’s actually a really important day for a few contenders who came out of last night with a win but who otherwise blanked on other precursor award shows.

It can be hard to get why the Golden Globes matter, because the answer is pretty secondhand. They’re a notoriously oddball group of people — as a person who has repeatedly clowned on the HFPA in print for the better part of a decade, this week has been delectable — who are increasingly coming off more as tinseltown Tammany than any group of trustworthy cultural insight. However, they do have an incredibly large television deal, and the Academy is stuck at home with nominations voting kicking off this very Friday, so any face time is good and in some categories they have an ounce of value. Today, I will go through those ounces and how they materially impact the state of the race.

Best Actress

We have a serious race right now!

Andra Day won for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, definitely an underdog win that has shaken up the race. As it stands now, a few more local critics’ prizes dropped since our last update, which still has Frances McDormand (Nomadland) up by a hair, but Day has been launched into second place thanks to her win in the Drama category, edging out Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman).

Day really needs that win to translate into a BAFTA nomination; she missed out on a SAG nomination — Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), and Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy) round that high-value award out. The Critics’ Choice voting ended well before her win last night, so in order to translate that Globes win into momentum she’s really got to be pulling for a nod at BAFTA, which has been the best predictor of Best Actress winners for a while.

Best Actor

The Golden Globe for Drama is a genuinely good predictor in this category, and more importantly it lines up with a consensus of preliminary local critics’ prizes in this category. After a really beautiful speech from his wife, and with nominations at both Critics’ Choice and SAG, the late Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) is a huge favorite right now based on all the signals we’re seeing. Steven Yeun (Minari) was left of the nominations at the Globes, and if he surprises at SAG we’ll have a race, but right now the model gives Boseman a serious edge.

I contractually do not have to talk about the Golden Globe for comedic actor. That’s in my contract and you can’t make me do it.

Best Director

Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) is the undisputed frontrunner here, capping off a tour-de-force run on the local critics’ prizes with a win at the Globes. The numbers have her well outperforming her rivals, and while the DGA and BAFTA are yet to come, she’s got every scrap of momentum going for her right now.

Best Picture

The Globes are objectively meaningless.

Best Supporting Actor

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) won in an incredibly competitive category. The supporting actor pool is a puddle this year, with just seven names picking up any wins or nominations of value. Four of the strongest of them were up against Kaluuya last night, and he won.

Maybe it’s my Elo-brain thinking here but to me, those kinds of wins — where you beat the people you’ll be playing the rest of the season — are always particularly informative. We redo this next Sunday — only drop out Jared Leto (The Little Things) and add in Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) and Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods) — at the Critics’ Choice. Right now, Kaluuya is at around double the points of any of his rivals, a Critics’ Choice win could make this category quite easy.

Best Supporting Actress


This category is anyone’s game. Two people were nominated for a Globe, a Critics’ Choice and a SAG award, Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) and Olivia Colman (The Father), and both of them were beaten out by Jodie Foster (The Mauritanian), a performance that was not nominated by SAG or the Critics’ Choice. Much like Andra Day, Foster really needs a nomination at BAFTA to stay in the game, because without one her momentum pretty much peaked last night.

My read on this is that it’s good news for Yuh-jung Youn (Minari), snubbed by the Globes but despite that leading in this category, trouncing among the local critics and claiming four of the five most-predictive prizes from the local groups. She’ll be competing at the Critics’ Choice next weekend; a win there cements her as frontrunner just as her two chief rivals are smarting from a loss. Also in the mix is Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), who the Globes in their infinite wisdom exiled into Best Actress for a Comedy, a decision that is, frankly, rude since that award does not exist.

Numlock Awards: Golden Globes Predictions

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Michael.

Happy Golden Globes Sunday! Pandemic weirdness aside, this will be a big night for a lot of movies to capitalize on their momentum — or fall short, dropping out of the conversation and imperiling their Oscar odds.

A lot of the power of the Globes can often come from the actual moments of the telecast. Take, for example, a visibly stunned Isabelle Huppert winning Best Actress in a Drama for Elle, besting the then-frontrunner Natalie Portman (Jackie) right as Oscar voting was underway and landing a nomination weeks later. (If you haven’t seen Elle, you may think it’s a pretty standard example of a foreign-language performance with crossover appeal nabbing an Oscar nomination. You should really see Elle before committing to that take.)

Here are my predictions on who will win the Globes tonight. Follow along with your own ballot, or feel free to submit my choices for your pool. As always, if you win any money off of these predictions, please Venmo me half your winnings.

Best Motion Picture Drama

The Father Mank Nomadland Promising Young Woman The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Globes have pretty varied taste in this category. Sometimes, they go for the big epic (The Revenant) over the eventual, understated Oscar winner (Spotlight). Other times, they see your The Imitation Game and raise with Boyhood. Nomadland is winning award after award, but if there is a spoiler, I think it’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. We just have to see which Hollywood Foreign Press Association voting bloc has the votes.

Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Hamilton Music Palm Springs The Prom

It was a mere two years ago when Green Book won this award and went on to win the Oscar. I somehow doubt Sia’s directorial debut or a movie starring James Corden is going to do the same when the Oscars roll around. The original Borat also got a nomination in this category, losing to Oscar-friendly Dreamgirls in a category that also included Little Miss Sunshine and The Devil Wears Prada. This is a much weaker category, so I’m expecting Borat to take it, with a possible spoiler from Palm Springs if the Globes’ love of Andy Samberg is still strong.

Best Actress in a Drama

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holliday Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman Frances McDormand, Nomadland Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

This is a tough race between Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan. McDormand already has two Globes — one for 2017’s Three Billboards and an unusual special award for being part of the ensemble of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts back in 1993. If McDormand hadn’t just won the Globe and the Oscar for Three Billboards, I’d lean more toward her, but I’m going with Mulligan getting her first Globe win tonight.

Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Kate Hudson, Music Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit Rosamund Pike, I Care A Lot Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma

The Globes loved Bakalova so much they bumped her from supporting to lead. Not entirely unprecedented — the same happened when Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated in this category for Chicago and ended up winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I can maybe see an argument for a Michelle Pfeiffer win (we’ve loved you before!) or Anya Taylor-Joy (we love you now, hence two nods!), but I think it’s Bakalova’s to lose.

Best Actor in a Drama

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Anthony Hopkins, The Father Gary Oldman, Mank Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian

This is a two-way race between Ahmed and Boseman. I think Boseman’s support will tend to coalesce around his lead role in Ma Rainey instead of his supporting work in Da 5 Bloods, and since the Globes didn’t even nominate Boseman for his supporting role, this is their once chance to honor him and kick off that trend in a big way.

Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm James Corden, The Prom Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield Andy Samberg, Palm Springs

Sacha Baron Cohen will make history in this category if he wins — he’ll be the first to win for reprising a character in a sequel, since he won for 2006’s original Borat. His closest competition is probably from Andy Samberg, but that would be an upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy Olivia Colman, The Father Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian Amanda Seyfried, Mank Helena Zengel, News of the World

Glenn Close cannot escape being locked into a category with Olivia Colman. This time around, I think Close’s luck is starting to change, and she could very well be the eventual Oscar winner. (Personally, I don’t think Close ever truly gave the best performance in her category the seven times she’s been Oscar nominated, but we can save that conversation for later.) Despite Elegy’s miss with critics, Close still escaped relatively unscathed from the most brutal reviews.

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah Jared Leto, The Little Things Bill Murray, On the Rocks Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

I’m going out on a limb here — I’m seeing a lot of predictions for Sacha Baron Cohen and Leslie Odom Jr. Cohen will win for Borat, so I don’t know how many people will double dip and give him a second Globe. Odom Jr. weirdly missed in the Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy category, despite the HFPA’s clear affinity for Hamilton and Music. Still, Kaluuya’s performance in Judas and the Black Messiah is that good, and it could be a good time to correct the record since Kaluuya lost Best Actor a few years back for Get Out to James Franco of all people.

Best Director

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman David Fincher, Mank Regina King, One Night in Miami Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

As Walter explained just a few days ago, Chloé Zhao’s run is unprecedented when it comes to critics’ awards. I expect her to continue her sweep of Best Director prizes tonight. If there’s a dark horse, it’s David Fincher, since the Globes are a bit more up on him than other groups.

Best Screenplay

Promising Young Woman Mank The Trial of the Chicago 7 The Father Nomadland

Aaron Sorkin is on his eighth nomination at the Globes, previously winning for both The Social Network and Steve Jobs. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is more Sorkin being Sorkin — dramatic monologues about the nature of the American experiment, stirring calls to action for the audience, and a complete dearth of developed female characters. If voters are a little bit more strategic and sense Promising Young Woman is coming up short in other categories, then this could be a good place to reward that movie, but I think Sorkin will walk away with his third win.

Best Original Score

Soul Mank News of the World The Midnight Sky Tenet

Remember when Tenet was supposed to save movie theaters from COVID-19, and it shockingly turned out that the mere will of Christopher Nolan wasn’t enough to stop a deadly pandemic? God, I miss the summer. Edge goes to Soul, which is actually about music in a way the others aren’t.

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” Judas and the Black Messiah “Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7 “Io sì,” The Life Ahead “Speak Now,” One Night in Miami “Tigress & Tweed,” The United States v. Billie Holliday

I fear going against Leslie Odom Jr. too often will tank my ballot, so I’m going to give it to him and Sam Ashworth for One Night in Miami.

Best Animated Feature

The Croods: A New Age Onward Over the Moon Soul Wolfwalkers

Pixar + Graham Norton = Golden Globe, and that’s just math. Walter’s not the only one who can do complex arithmetic.

Best Foreign Language Film

Another Round (Denmark) La Llorona (Guatemala) The Life Ahead (Italy) Minari (USA) Two of Us (France)

Despite some of the wonkiness of the Globes’ rules pushing Minari into the foreign language category instead of Best Drama, I think it’s an easy win here, since it’s a huge Oscar contender with a ton of buzz and universal raves. Given the backlash the Globes got for classifying the film as a foreign-language movie, I doubt they’ll go so far as to then give the award to another nominee.

Numlock Awards: The critics have picked the contenders

The acting prizes are weird, but the supporting acting prizes have some contenders

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Walter.

Welcome back! I spent the past two weekends updating the model with all the data needed, and today I’m going through the current weightings and also what the preliminary data from the critics’ awards is telling us.

Just a reminder, the model works by determining a point value for each precursor award based on their recent historical accuracy in “calling” the Oscar winner. When you’re nominated for that precursor, you get credited a fifth of the points, and should you win it you get the full value. The top five most-predictive local critics’ awards — things like the New York Film Critics Circle (bad at predicting the Oscars) or the Iowa Film Critics (weirdly excellent!) — are rolled into one prize, you can read how they’re scored in this fun explainer.

It’s still early, but this should give you a heads up on the state of play at least going into the Globes.

Best Picture

About 26 percent of the Best Picture score is derived by the Producers Guild, followed by the DGA (19 percent) and SAG (15 percent). Of the big three, only SAG nominations are out. Beyond that, about 8 percent of the score comes from each the BAFTAs and Critics’ Choice award. Just 4 percent comes from the Golden Globes. Most of the rest comes from one of the two Writers Guild (8 percent), Editors (6 percent), and local critic prizes (5 percent).

So far, we have absolutely no idea what the Best Picture race looks like. We know what’s in contention: besides the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice, and the Writers have unveiled nominees. The Critics’ Choice has 10 nominees this year, so any film with a pulse got a nod, and the Golden Globes are pretty worthless on Best Picture.

If you’re looking for a watchlist, the 12 films with decent points on the board include The Trial of the Chicago 7, Minari, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, One Night In Miami…, Da 5 Bloods, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, Mank, News of the World, Palm Springs, and Judas and the Black Messiah. The bulk of your Oscar nominees are probably on that list.

Best Actor

Just shy of two-thirds of the score for Best Actor comes from SAG (33 percent) and BAFTA (30 percent), with the rest mostly coming from the Globe for drama (16 percent) and the local prizes (12 percent)

We have some pretty agreed-upon frontrunners here, and basically they’re the five folks up at SAG: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Steven Yeun (Minari), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), and Gary Oldman (Mank). Only the first three caught any heat from the local critic prizes, though they’ve split them up pretty well so we’ll lack a frontrunner likely until the week of the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes.

Best Actress

BAFTA is really the one to watch here, accounting for 37 percent of the Best Actress point pool, followed by SAG (30 percent) and then the Globe for drama (11 percent). All the other awards are pretty much just icing on those cakes, and given our lack of BAFTA, this category is still very unknown right now.

That means the SAG nominees are really setting the pace here, because of the 5-most predictive local critics’ prizes in this category, only one has given their awards out so far, to Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). Other strong contenders include Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman).

Best Director

The DGA crowns the winner here, and so it accounts for 42 percent of the point pool, followed by BAFTA with 22 percent, the Critics’ Choice with 14 percent, and the local prizes with 12 percent.

This category is fascinating this year. The local critics’ prizes are typically only useful as an early signal when they’re pretty much in agreement. When Brad Pitt reliably hauled in the majority of the critic prizes last year, it was a clear signal of what’s to come. But this year, we have never seen anything like Chloé Zhao’s domination among local critics’ awards for Best Direction, never. Of the 19 critics’ groups I monitor that have awarded their prizes this year, 18 of them gave Zhao the win for Nomadland.

The 19th, the London Film Critics’ Circle, gave it to Steve McQueen for Small Axe, which is likely ineligible for the Oscars since it was intended for television.

Normally I’d hesitate to call a favorite this early in the cycle but I can’t make an argument against it being Zhao’s to lose at this point, there’s no other year I can find where a contender so dominated in the local critics’ awards.

Best Supporting Actor

A very even category where every win counts: SAG’s worth 29 percent of available points, BAFTA 24 percent, the Globe 17 percent, the local prizes 16 percent, and the Critics’ Choice 14 percent. All of them are really meaningful.

After SAG, the Critics’ Choice, and the Golden Globes (which is actually good at predicting this one!), we have the smallest list of names of any category for Best Supporting Actor, with seven men actually in the mix: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night In Miami), Jared Leto (The Little Things), Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods), Bill Murray (On The Rocks), and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal).

Quick aside: Simply as a voting analysis, Boseman — who tragically died last year — seems favored in the Best Actor category for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, where he’s been winning local critics’ prizes and getting nominated. That he was left off the Globes’ list in supporting — the category they’re actually good at predicting — leads me to believe that the posthumous push will most likely come in Best Actor, but were he nominated in both lead and supporting, the electoral implications are confusing.

Best Supporting Actress

SAG sets the pace here, accounting for 35 percent of the point pool, but every award counts: BAFTA accounts for 24 percent, Critics’ Choice for 13 percent, and Golden Globe and local critics aggregate each for 14 percent. I tend to think with the supporting actors it’s all about getting often-unfamiliar faces in front of the most people and on the most television broadcasts, so it makes sense that every win counts.

Here we actually have some separation! Yuh-jung Youn (Minari) may have missed out on a Globe nomination, but she racked up three of the five most-predictive local prizes, which has put her in the lead. There are five other serious contenders: Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father), Helena Zengel (News of the World), Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and Amanda Seyfried (Mank). Each of those latter three missed out at one of the Globes, SAG or Critics’ Choice (Bakalova only because they put her in Lead for Comedy at the Globes). The only other two names in the mix are Jodie Foster (The Mauritanian) and Ellen Burstyn (Pieces of a Woman).

The Academy hit the magic number, and this year is the inflection point

Post-2012 Academy voters now equal pre-2012 members!

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Walter.

When I write about the Oscars, I try to get at the heart of what’s happening within the Academy as a group of voters. This isn’t the only way to look at it. The Academy would prefer you see the Oscars as a true coronation of the finest in film achievement and the first draft of film history. Cinephiles won’t fall for that, but they will argue that these are creative works that engage with and provoke societal narratives, and the quality and timeliness of a work is what can nab it the Oscar. Others look to the commercial angle, following it like a promotional campaign, letting the best promoted film win. All of these are coherent and valid and in one way or another correct.

I like looking at it like an election, which is fundamentally what it is. It’s a group of people who vote on a thing. They may take their cues on how to vote for that thing as the coronation or as a work of culture riding a narrative or as a campaign that can be won, but end of the day they’re filling out a ballot. So to me, understanding this group of people is paramount to understanding the Oscars.

It’s incredibly difficult to get across how significant the past several years have been for the Academy. The easiest way I can do that is with this chart:

This is the number of voting members there were at the end of each calendar year. Right now, we’re north of 9,000, and the number has been steadily rising since Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the helm of the organization and early in her term announced plans to begin expanding the organization to better reflect what Hollywood actually looked like. A year or so after that push began we had the first #OscarsSoWhite year, and that pretty succinctly gave the organization the impetus to actually implement the ambitious expansion plans Isaacs had been pushing for. After decades with 5,000 to 6,000 voting members, the organization embarked on a deliberate expansion.

Basically, all of the conventional wisdom we have about the Oscars is from before that line turns into a hockey stick.

(I want to give a quick shout out to Steve Pond at The Wrap, who has dutifully compiled these annual figures for many years now. These charts combine data I pulled from archived versions of the AMPAS site and his annual writeup on the subject.)

However, it’s not just that more folks are being added, it’s also that people die, and as a result the actual composition of the Academy, I believe, has finally hit a point that the number of people inducted since 2012 now exceeds the total number of people in the organization prior to 2012. There’s a chance I’m wrong, but even then the numbers look pretty even.

This chart looks at the composition of the Academy with the assumption that everyone who is invited joins. That’s not actually the case, but bear with me here:

Under these circumstances of maximum replacement, 5,141 people in the Academy have joined since 2012, and 4,221 of the people who were in the Academy in 2011 are still voters. That’s 55 percent being new folks, which is too high, but like I said: upper bound.

This chart looks at the composition of the Academy with the assumption that of those invited to join, 90 percent accept. I think that’s low. But for the purposes of getting a range of possibility, here’s the chart:

That would give us 4,730 people in the Academy from 2011 or earlier, and 4,632 from 2012 or later. Under an incredibly conservative scenario, we’re pretty much tied here.

(See a note down below for why things are flatter from 2019 to 2020, there’s a reason for that!)

In general, I think this is a significant reason that lots of awards (actors, mostly) are still fairly predictable while Best Picture (everyone nominates and votes!) is becoming destabilized.

There were 1,172 actors in the Academy in 2011, and 1,363 in 2020. That’s a gain of 16.2 percent, which is pretty small.

In the Academy as a whole, there were 5,783 voters in 2011, and now there are 9,362, which is a 62 percent increase. That’s massive. The visual effects branch has doubled in size! The Short Films and Feature Animation branch is up 135 percent! The Documentary branch is up 259 percent!

The organization is in significant flux internally — will probably do some posts on that later this cycle — with some branches ascending in power and some in decline.

The end result is this: under the conservative case, this year’s Academy Awards is the first where the new membership (2012 or later) and the earlier membership (2011 or earlier) are about evenly matched in size:

Now again, don’t conclude this means “young and diverse people are half the Academy” because while the Academy has made some gains in diversity there’s still significant asymmetries in the organization compared to society as a whole. Indeed, if there’s a thing that lots of the newer members of the Academy have in common it’s actually a broader international footprint, as the Academy is also attempting to make its membership better reflect global film, not just U.S. demographics. More on that later, probably.

But at the end of the day, 2021 is the year I’ve been waiting for. The old ways of predicting the Oscars are getting worse, and we need to catch up to the current reality as fast as we can. That’s why I built the model the way I did, and this year will be an inflection point to see what the future of the Academy preferences will bring.

Quick fun postscript note on why 2020 seemed to flatten out: the Academy this year voted to make all the agents into full voting members of the Academy in the members-at-large branch rather than associate members, who do not vote for the Oscars. As a result of this shift, this year associates lost 109 members and the members-at-large gained 116, so probably a little over a hundred agents became full-fledged Oscar voters. Based on my best estimate given the growth of the associates branch in the past decade, about 50 of those hundred-ish agents joined since 2012. As a result, the number of voters popped this year — 819 invitees and like a hundred upgraded agents — but some of those agents are pre-2011, so the number flattens out just a bit.


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