There’s a lot going on in the world, to put it mildly. In the entertainment business alone, we have seen how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented and near-total change across every facet of the industry. Movies have seen their releases postponed, delayed, or moved straight to VOD. Major film and television productions remain in limbo. Worries grow that many cinemas may not survive this year. Events like major film festivals and awards shows have been canceled altogether.
The final line in the sand for Hollywood seemed to be the Academy Awards. If they made big changes to accommodate the problems caused by this pandemic then that was a sign of the point of no return. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is notoriously allergic to change. It took them until this year to give Best Picture to a movie not in the English language and they’ve still to give a Black film-maker the Best Director Oscar. Their hesitation to even acknowledge streaming movies seemed to be their ultimate roadblock but now that pales in comparison to the current situation. Even they have had to admit defeat on some level. As a result of the current situation, the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony has been pushed back from February 28 to April 25. Along with that, the eligibility period has been extended to February 28, 2021, rather than December 31 as it has been for a very long time. The Academy’s Governor Awards, where the Honorary Oscars are handed out, as well as the Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony, have also both been postponed.
In April, the Academy’s governors meeting voted to temporarily allow movies released on video on demand to be eligible for nomination, as long as they were originally scheduled to have a theatrical release and were uploaded to the Academy’s online screening service within 60 days of public release. Eligible screenings will now also be allowed to take place in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami, which widens their reach beyond the typical New York and Los Angeles rule.
As a result of these changes, the 2021 BAFTA Awards have also chosen to postpone their ceremony to April 11, 2021. The Golden Globes, along with the Directors’ Guild and Producers’ Guild of America, had already announced that they would revise their eligibility rules for 2020 films to accommodate movies that were forced to have non-theatrical runs due to the pandemic.
It’s not unprecedented for the ceremony itself to be pushed back. It’s happened three times in the past — once in 1938 due to extreme flooding in Los Angeles; again in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King; and finally in 1981 after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. The eligibility period has been extended before, way back in 1934. Still, given everything we’ve dealt with over the past few months and the ambiguity surrounding the long-term impact of this pandemic, there is still the air of radical and unseen change around the Academy’s decisions.
Any changes that the Academy made were going to be divisive on some level, but how could they not make changes? We’re looking at a 2020 where some films may never get a cinematic release, where others have seen their premiere dates moved back months or even years, and where the fall festival season simply may never happen. We can barely get the Oscars to admit that women direct movies so how the hell were they expected to react to a literal pandemic?
Their options were pretty limited too. They could have canceled the 2021 ceremony altogether but how would that have been fair for the 2020 movies that were released and wholly deserving of celebration? Remember, the first half of this terrible and limited creative year still gave us Da 5 Bloods, Bacurau, First Cow, The Invisible Man, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Shirley, to name but a few examples. As much as we would all like to wipe 2020 off the calendar, that’s not how this works and the knock-on impact from such a decision would have been seismic. We’ve already seen some Oscar-buzzed titles like Will Smith’s King Richard choose to move to 2021, and it wouldn’t be the last movie to do so if the Oscars pulled the plug on 2020.
Of course, plenty of movies are probably still gearing up to sit out 2020 as it is. With the festival season essentially a non-starter for this fall, a lot of the movies that need that specific build-up and buzz to get attention simply can’t function as desired. If you’re a small-to-mid budget indie movie from a smaller studio that needs the prestige and attention of the festival circuit/awards season just to be seen then it may be more financially and creatively beneficial for you to skip 2020 and stake out your spot on next year.
If the Oscars made no changes at all then we could have found ourselves in a weird place where the only eligible movies were those released from January to March. Now, there were some stellar titles given theatrical distribution during that small period of time but the chances are we would have seen a hell of a lot of padding from voters. Academy Award nominee Sonic the Hedgehog, anyone?
The decision to move the eligibility window to February probably won’t lead to a longer season so much as it will allow studios to relax their 2020 schedule. That big blockbuster they had to pull from the schedule can now find pride of place in a solid holiday slot and the Oscar titles can go to January. That’s essentially what they already do since such films are seldom seen by general audiences during their harried one-week New York/Los Angeles qualification release. In that aspect, Oscar lovers who wait for such films may not see much change. Us Brits may barely notice it in that regard.
Personally, I’m curious to see how this impacts platforms like Netflix, who already have a head start on streaming as a business model and using that wide-reaching clout to garner industry favor. Netflix is hardly the scrappy underdog of Hollywood like they position themselves as but they are still somewhat on the fringes of full-on acceptance by the old guard. That’s changing thanks to films like Marriage Story and The Irishman, and this year alone they have big-hitters from the likes of Spike Lee, David Fincher, and Ron Howard. Can they fill in some of the major gaps left over this year by the studios?
Ultimately, the Academy is trying as hard as they can to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake in this weird season, which is sort of ironic given that fairness and the concept of meritocracy have always eluded them. Oscars are about buzz. They’re about industry politics and money and how the entertainment industry wants the world to perceive it. Moreover, they’re focused on remaining relevant at a time when the world of cinema was already changing dramatically long before COVID-19 started knocking on everyone’s doors. These current changes are a survival tactic, and they were probably the best options they could have made out of a basket of impossible choices.
On the bright side, this means that Parasite gets to be our reigning Best Picture for a couple more months. Bonghive wins again!
Header Image Source: Getty Images.