The first Academy Awards (later named the Oscars, after the famous statue presented to winners) took place on Thursday 16 May 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the brainchild of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, formed in 1927.
For the first decade, the winner’s names were given to local newspapers for publication at 11pm on the night of the awards. This system was abandoned when the Los Angeles Times published the winners prior to the ceremony, forcing the academy to provide sealed envelopes. Members of the Academy- 5,783 as of 2012- are divided into branches of film-making and vote on nominations and winners.
Whilst the Academy actively attempts to avoid controversy, some awards cannot help but be controversial. Some believe that the awards are elitist and that Hollywood historical preference is applauded regardless of artistic merit. For example, in 2005, Brokeback Mountainwas overlooked for Best Picture by a little-known movie, Crash, which many believe was a direct snub towards a film about a homosexual relationship, regarding Hollywood as inherently prejudice.
Equally, director of the Pianist, Roman Polanski was on the run at the time for sexually assaulting a minor, and so it was a surprise that the film was recognised at all (although it was overlooked for Best Picture by musical-picture Chicago, in keeping with Academy tradition in following the musical trend of the early 2000s)
Historically, the Academy has had to develop strategies for overcoming certain inevitabilities and events; for example, the Oscar statuette itself had been cast in a mixture of tin and copper and gold-plated since its inception in 1928. However, in support of the American war effort during World War II, the statuette were made of plaster and could be traded in for gold ones after the war had ended.
Equally as interesting is certain cases which involved people who were ‘blacklisted’ by the American government as suspected Communist sympathisers.The Academy Awards were not immune from ant-Communist feeling at the time, and the Hollywood blacklist prevented writer Dalton Trumbo, and screenwriters Nedrick Young, Harold Jacob Smith, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson from receiving credit for their work.
The Oscars were instead presented to other nominees, and in the case of Foreman, Wilson and Trumbo, the Academy has voted posthumously to reinstate them on the records as rightful winners.