Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

How Are Each Year's Oscar Presenters Chosen?

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

There's no moment more dramatic at the Academy Awards than those few seconds when the presenter opens that envelope and reads the name of the winner. For that brief pause, the presenter is probably the most important person in the film industry. But how are they chosen? Is it random, is there a tradition involved, or does the presenter have a relationship with the inevitable winner? As with most things, the answer is a bit of everything.

In 2012, Entertainment Weekly set out to debunk the myth that presenters usually had some sort of relationship with the winners. This isn’t a conspiracy theory of magic bullet proportions, but the article did find some evidence that was too coincidental to be left to chance. How else can you explain Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg presenting the Best Director award to Martin Scorsese in 2007? It’s well known that these four have a long history together and changed the movie industry forever back in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The article also points to other pieces of evidence, like Barbra Streisand awarding Clint Eastwood the Best Director award for both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, and more than a few winners being presented awards by former co-stars. But these instances are few and far between: At the time the article was written, a presenter with a connection to a winner seemed to happen about 12 percent of the time. And, as the article points out, who knows how many of those just happened to be a coincidence—Reese Witherspoon presenting her American Psycho co-star Christian Bale with a Best Supporting Actor award for The Fighter isn’t exactly the type of wink-wink, nudge-nudge Easter egg that most people will really pay attention to. (Let's not forget that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon theory is also at work here.)

There are also instances in which the reverse comes true—like when Harrison Ford presented the award for Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love rather than Saving Private Ryan, which would have allowed him to give the gold to his Indiana Jones helmsman Steven Spielberg.

So, then, how are the presenters chosen in most other instances? Film critic and historian Carrie Rickey gave the following answer on Quora:

"Traditionally, best actor from the prior year presents best actress and vice-versa; the best supporting actress of the prior year presents supporting actor and vice-versa. (Sometimes the prior award winners are making a film and can't be there.)

"A sprinkling of other acting nominees (since they will be there) will present non-acting awards.

"Typically the producers try to get the stars of the top box-office movies to present and get a spectrum of [new] and established performers."

Rickey also said that well-known foreign stars like Christoph Waltz and Penélope Cruz will usually have a spot presenting (Baby Driver star Eiza González will be one of 2018's presenters), as will musical acts when it comes to the award for Best Original Song.

So the answer comes down to a bit of everything: star power, tradition, national intrigue, and perhaps (if you believe in conspiracy theories) even a relationship between the presenter and the recipient. If you're taking bets on winners, you could possibly factor these relationships in, but you might wind up with another Shakespeare in Love switcheroo.

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Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.

Big Questions
What Is Fair Trade?

What is fair trade?

Shannon Fisher:

Fair trade is a system of manufacturing and purchasing intended to:

1) level the economic playing field for underdeveloped nations; and

2) protect against human rights abuses in the Global South.

Fair trade farmers are guaranteed fair market prices for their crops, and farm workers are guaranteed a living wage, which means workers who farm fair trade products and ingredients are guaranteed to earn enough to support their families and comfortably live in their communities. There are rules against inhumane work practices. Fair trade farming organizations are monitored for a safe work environment, lack of discrimination, the freedom to organize, and strict adherence to child labor laws. Agrochemicals and GMOs are also forbidden. If these rules are not followed, a product will not receive fair trade certification.

The quality of life in many communities producing fair trade-certified goods is greatly improved. Sometimes, farming communities are given profit sharing from the companies that source their ingredients, and those profits go to improving the community as a whole—be it with a library, medical facilities, town infrastructure, or opening small businesses to support the residents. A major goal of fair trade is to help foster sustainable development around the globe. By helping farming communities in third-world countries, the economy of the entire region gets a boost.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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