Academy Changes Rules, Will Let Everyone Vote in Foreign-Language Category

Announcement of new rules also includes the unprecedented revelation that 90 percent of the Academy voted for this year's Oscars

The Academy has changed the rules in the Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Documentary Short Subject categories, allowing all members to vote in the categories for the first time without attending special screenings.

The announcement came at the first AMPAS-wide membership meeting, a presentation and forum that took place simultaneously in Beverly Hills, New York City and Emeryville in the San Francisco Bay Area.

AMPAS also announced a similar change to the rules in the Best Documentary Short category. TheWrap had revealed that change in March.

Also read: Oscars Overhaul Short-Documentary Rules, Plan to Expand Doc Branch

The Academy will now send its members screeners of all nominated films in the five categories that formerly require attendance at special screenings: foreign-language, documentary and doc short, and the animated and live-action shorts.

The rule change went into effect in the doc-feature, animated short and live-action short categories last year.

All 24 categories will now appear on the Oscar ballot. In the past, those five categories were not on the main ballot, but required members to see the films in a theater before voting.

Members will no longer have to prove that they've seen all the films before voting, but will be on the honor system, as they are in the other Oscar categories.

The rule requiring members to see all five foreign-language nominees in a theater severly restricted the number of voters in the category, and in a sense leveled the playing field and made possible upsets like the victories of "Departures" over "The Class" or "The Secret In Their Eyes" over "A Prophet" and "The White Ribbon" — and perhaps more crucially, the brilliant but little-known German film "The Lives of Others" over the far more popular "Pan's Labyrinth."

The foreign-language voting should now involve significantly more voters, and the results could favor higher-profile films and place increased importance on campaigning. With voters not required to see all the nominees, smaller movies may well need to work harder to persuade members to watch them before voting.

In making the announcement, Academy president Hawk Koch said, "This change continues our efforts to expand our members’ participation in all aspects of the Academy’s activities including, of course, voting for the Oscars.”

Koch's statement in the AMPAS press release also surprisingly revealed that 90 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots for the Oscars this year, which he said was a record.

In the past, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Academy have described voter turnout as strong, but have never released any actual figures.

The changes in the foreign-language and doc-short categories had both been known to be in the works for some time.

The membership meeting, which began with brunch in Beverly Hills and Emeryville and lunch in New York, was also scheduled to include presentations and discussions about online voting, new technology and the Academy Museum.