The iconic Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, considered one of the most prestigious and significant awards across the globe, is presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), to recognize and celebrate artistic and technical excellence and achievements of professionals in the American and international film industry. Journey of the Oscar, a brainchild of AMPAS, started nearly a century ago as a more private affair sans much pageantry and has over the years taken shape of a gala event that is awaited and viewed by millions worldwide. The award marks as a symbol of recognition and prestige for the winners acknowledging their hard work, creativity and talent thereby boosting their careers for future endeavors.
When the AMPAS was established on May 11, 1927, the organization was more concerned with labor issues including labor-management arbitrations and negotiations. Although a committee for Awards of Merit was formed, the idea of presenting awards and forming structure of the awards was not seriously considered and discussed until May 1928. The committee proposed to present Academy Awards of Merit in twelve categories, which the board of directors of the Academy assented to by July that year. Voting system was formed that month and nomination and selection procedure also began for the award of merit for distinctive achievement marking initiation of the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony that is presently known as the Academy Awards. Louis B. Mayer, a co-founder of AMPAS, wanted to come up with the award to bring together the five sections of motion picture industry, namely actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. MGM art director Cedric Gibbons designed the Oscar statuette in 1927 which was then sculpted by George Maitland Stanley.
The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held at a private dinner on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California, with about 270 people attending the 15 minutes event that had a ticket price of $5 per guest. Films from August 1, 1927 to July 31, 1928 were considered for the ceremony, nomination rules of which made the candidates eligible to get nominated and receive an award for one or more films, or sans any mention of a particular film. It marks as the sole Academy Awards ceremony that was not broadcast on radio and in which names of winners was announced to the media three months in advance. Fifteen statuettes were awarded during the ceremony. Swiss-born German actor Emil Jannings, who received the Academy Award for Best Actor, became the first Academy Award recipient as he was given the award before the event since he had to go back to Europe. Name of legendary English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer Charlie Chaplin, who received nominations for Best Director (Comedy Picture), Best Actor, and Best Writing (Original Story) for the film The Circus, was removed from the award categories by the Academy and was instead honored with a Special Award for the versatility and brilliance he showcased in writing, directing, acting and producing the film.
The 2nd Academy Awards ceremony held on April 3, 1930, was broadcast on commercial AM radio station KNX, Los Angeles, marking it as the first Academy Awards ceremony that had a radio broadcast. Award categories of the event were reduced to seven. Starting from the 2nd Academy Awards names of winners were not announced in advance, rather given to the press only to be published at 11:00 pm on the night of the ceremonies. After the Los Angeles Times broke promise by leaking voting results and name of winners of the 12th Academy Awards before start of the event, the Academy started using sealed envelopes from the 13th Academy Awards to keep names of winners secret till the time they receive the awards. The 13th ceremony also marks as the first when an American president took part in the ceremony that witnessed Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering a six-minute direct radio speech to attendees of the event from the White House.
Since the 2nd award ceremony, over the years the AMPAS has made several changes in rules, methods and categories to keep up with the ever evolving film industry. Many new Academy Awards categories were introduced including Best Supporting Actor (1936), Best Supporting Actress (1936), Best Visual Effects (1939), Best Documentary Short Film (1941), Best Documentary Feature Film (1943), Best International Feature Film (1947) and Best Animated Feature Film (2001). Some categories were merged, for instance categories of Best Director (Comedy Picture) and Best Director (Dramatic Picture) were merged into Best Director award; while some like Best Writing (Title Writing) and Best Unique and Artistic Production were discontinued. The system of giving an award to a recipient for a single film or multiple films was changed since the 4th ceremony from which time a recipient was honored with an Oscar for his/her performance in a particular film.
The Special Award was established years later in 1950 as the Academy Honorary Award and first presented during the 23rd Academy Awards. The Board of Governors of AMPAS presents this award to individuals of film industry to recognize their remarkable achievements that do not always fall under existing categories of Academy Awards. Starting from 2009, this award is given during the annual Governors Awards instead of at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, and usually the gold Oscar statuette that is given during the annual Academy Awards ceremony is given unless otherwise mentioned. The Academy also came up with several other special Academy Awards categories like Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1938), Academy Special Achievement Award (1972) and Gordon E. Sawyer Award (1981) which are given occasionally, not always annually, and voting of which are done by special committees.
The 25th Academy Awards held in 1953 was the first Oscar ceremony that was televised, while the 38th Academy Awards held in 1966 was the first that was broadcast live in color. South Korean black comedy thriller Parasite (2019) won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony in 2020 and with this emerged as the first non English-language film to win an Oscar in the category.
Traditionally since 1973, the Best Picture category, which is regarded as the most distinguished award of the event, is given as the final award before ending the ceremony, however during the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony held in 2021, the categories for Best Actress and Best Actor were presented after the Best Picture category with Best Actor announcement ending the ceremony.
The Academy Awards has paved way for three other major annual American entertainment awards that are modeled after it. These include the Emmy Awards, the Tony Awards and the Grammy Awards which recognizes excellence of professionals in television, live Broadway theatre and music industries respectively. The Academy Awards has over the years cemented its position as the highest honor in the world of cinema. Telecast in more than 200 countries worldwide, reputation of the award has reached such a height that getting nominated for an Oscar is considered a feat in itself.