For Hollywood the Oscars is the crowning night of the year as stars of the silver screen tearfully accept their 13.5-inch golden statuettes with professions of undying gratitude to the “members of the Academy” who voted for them.

But the question of who these 5,765 voters belonging to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually are has long been shrouded in mystery, their identities kept a closely guarded secret.

On the eve of the 84th Academy Awards this week an exhaustive investigation has now found what many have long suspected. They are overwhelmingly white, male and old.

Those selected to vote for the Oscars retain the right for life meaning some have not worked on a film themselves for decades. They include former film industry workers who have moved on to other professions, including a nun, the owner of a book shop, and a retired recruiter for the Peace Corps.

Their votes count equally with those of other more famous members such as Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney.

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