Academy Awards

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Academy Awards (The Oscars)

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: Late February or early March
Where Celebrated: Hollywood, California
Symbols and Customs: Gowns, Oscars, Red Carpet, Sealed Envelope


Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences grants awards to individuals of outstanding achievement in the world of film. Known as the Academy Awards, this glamorous awards ceremony gathers together hundreds of famous actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers, and film technicians. Although it is an invitation-only event, the ceremony is broadcast on television and reported all over the world. It takes place in late February or early March, with awards given for films released in the previous calendar year.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional organization composed of top-achieving individuals involved in the world of film-making. One of the organization's goals is to encourage high quality work in the motion picture industry. For that reason the Academy instituted its annual awards ceremony. When it was founded, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences included just thirty-six members. These days the Academy boasts over 6,000 voting members. At the first Academy Awards ceremony, fifteen individuals were honored for their contributions to the world of film. The following year just seven awards were given: best actor, best actress, best picture, best director, best writer, best cinematographer, and best art director. Currently, the Academy bestows awards in up to twenty-five different categories of achievement. Academy members vote on Academy Awards

who will win the Academy Award. Although all members may vote in such general categories as "best picture," voting in other categories is limited to members of that particular division. For example, only film editors may vote for the "best film editing" award.

The first Academy Awards ceremony occurred on May 16, 1929, with 270 people in attendance. The event took place in the banquet room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The banquet and awards ceremony were presided over by the actor Douglas Fairbanks, who was at that time the president of the Academy. Winners were honored with a statuette that came to be known as an OSCAR , a tradition that has continued until this day.

In that first year, the names of the award recipients were announced in advance. The following year the names of the winners were given in advance to the newspapers, which were asked not to publish the information until the ceremony was over. In 1940, the Los Angeles Times ignored the Academy's request and broke the news before the start of the ceremony. As a result, the ceremony organizers devised a system whereby the results of the Academy's balloting was kept secret even from Academy members. The results were revealed only when the SEALED ENVELOPE containing the name of the winner was opened at the awards ceremony.

In 1930 the Academy Awards were the subject of a live radio broadcast. Radio coverage continued to provide the public with its only live access to the event until 1953, when the Academy Awards were broadcast on television for the first time. Today the Academy Awards broadcast is seen not only in the United States, but also in 100 different countries around the world.

Until 1942 the awards ceremony included a banquet for all the guests. This custom was discontinued the following year because each year the guest list grew longer and it simply became too difficult to combine the sumptuous meal with the awards ceremony. From 1943 on, the Academy Awards ceremony was held in theaters rather than in banquet halls. In the decades that followed, the event did not settle in a permanent home but instead shifted from theater to theater. In 2002 the Academy Awards ceremony was held at Hollywood's Kodak Theater, and the event has remained there since that time.



The media often pays as much attention to the gowns worn by the actresses who attend the Academy Awards ceremony as it does to the winning films and performances. For this reason top fashion designers compete with one another to convince Academy Awards

Other Film Awards and Festivals

hough the Academy Awards ceremony is perhaps the most popular awards event in film, other organizations also acknowledge achievement in film. They include:

Broadcast Film Critics Association has presented the Critics' Choice awards since 1996

Directors Guild of America has presented awards for directorial achievement since 1948

Hollywood Foreign Press Association has presented the Golden Globe Awards since 1943

In addition, several film festivals worldwide provide an important outlet for recognizing film-making talent, including:

Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival inaugurated in 1951, takes place in Berlin, Germany, each February

Cannes Film Festival began in 1947 and is held in Cannes, France, each May

Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, has highlighted independent films since 1984

Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, has been held since 1976

Venice Film Festival has taken place in Venice, Italy, since 1932 famous actresses to wear their gowns to the Academy Awards. Actresses who are nominated for an award are especially sought after. In some newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media, these gowns and the looks of the actresses that wear them are subject to the same intense scrutiny and review as the movies themselves.


Each winner receives a statuette whose official name is the "Academy Award of Merit." Better known as an "Oscar," these gold-plated statuettes are thirteen and a half inches tall and weigh eight and one half pounds. The figure is meant to represent a knight with a sword clasped in front of him, standing on a reel of film. No one knows exactly how the statuettes came to be known as Oscars. Some say that an early Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick-who later became president of the Academy-thought that the statuettes resembled her uncle Oscar. She started calling them by that name, and the Academy staff followed suit. This private name eventually spread throughout Hollywood. The Academy adopted "Oscar" as the nickname of its awards in 1939.

Red Carpet

When celebrities arrive at the Kodak Theater to attend the Academy Awards, they step out of their cars onto a red carpet. This carpet lines the path to the theater doors. Traditionally, red carpets have been spread in front of royalty or very highranking people. Certainly the famous actors, actresses, and directors who attend the awards ceremony may be viewed as Hollywood "royalty." Reporters and photographers line both sides of the red carpet, hoping to get a photo or a short interview with one of the movie stars. Celebrities often linger awhile on the red carpet, enjoying the free publicity.

Sealed Envelopes

The Academy mails nomination ballots to its membership in late December. These are collected and tallied in January, so that the final ballots can be mailed in early February. The members return the ballots to the professional services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which completes the official count. This procedure ensures that even Academy members don't know the results of the voting until the winners are announced at the awards ceremony. PriceWaterhouseCoopers employees sworn to secrecy tally the votes and place the names of the winners in sealed envelopes. These sealed envelopes are delivered on the day of the event. The stars chosen to announce the award in each category list the names of the nominees, following a script whose last line reads, "and the Oscar goes to…." Then they break the seal of the envelope and announce to the world the winner of the most coveted award in the world of film.


Osborne, Robert. 75 Years of the Oscar. New York: Abbeville Press, 2003.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
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