If this Oscars season was a movie, it's about the time some kind of miracle would happen. Our down-on-its-luck protagonist would have just about given up on its dreams of pulling off a successful award show, until a deus ex machina spurs it towards success in a performance so masterful...well, it would win an Oscar. That's not going to happen.
With less than one week left before this gruelling season finally comes to a close, the Academy's attempts to save to Oscars from declining ratings may just end up being its demise. The seeds of disaster were planted back in 2018 when the Academy announced the controversial addition of a "Popular Film" category, which many saw as a loophole to not give blockbuster films like Black Panther traditional Best Picture recognition. The decision to walk back the category's inclusion would end up being the first of numerous false starts for this year's Academy Awards, which currently sit hostless and the subject of celebrities' public ire thanks to its many failed attempts to tweak the beloved traditions of the show.
It's not all bad news. The Hollywood Reporter announced Monday that the Academy is taking steps to right some of its previous wrongs, inviting #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign to attend the ceremony with her son as hopefully a symbol of its dedication to improving diversity. However, not even the Oscars can pull off a resurrection worthy of the big screen, and it's likely the 91st annual Academy Awards will go down in history not with a devastating crash, but with an awkward, unremarkable fizzle. Here's why.
The Popular Category Controversy
In what would soon become a familiar practice for the Academy, the Oscars announced a big change to the ceremony that they then reversed after public disapproval. Back in August, a statement revealed the addition of a category for outstanding achievement in popular film, which would have applied to films that did well with audiences but aren't traditional Best Picture Oscar-bait (think Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Crazy Rich Asians). However, people pointed out that rather than adding what amounts to a consolation prize, the Oscars could instead adapt to the times by broadening its definition of what makes a movie Best Picture-worthy in the first place.
They did just that. The Academy scrapped the new category in response to the backlash, and Black Panther is nominated for Best Picture.
The Host Controversy
Shortly after Kevin Hart was announced as the host of the 2019 Oscars, Twitter fired back with old tweets from the comedian that included explicit and violent homophobic comments. Rather than apologise for the tweets, Hart dug in his heels, dropping out of the ceremony and telling everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to Good Morning America that he was "over it."
Hart's public reckoning was so arduous that it soured the gig in general, and no celebrity was willing to step in as a replacement — or perhaps the opportunity itself is no longer as compelling as it once was thanks to the show's general decline in popularity. Whatever the reason, ABC later confirmed that the 91st Academy Awards will be going without a host this year.
To make up for it, the show will instead feature a whole bunch of exciting celebrity presenters. But instead of inspiring excitement, that decision prompted a whole new controversy...
The Presenting Controversy
Rather than sticking to the original tradition of having past winners present their categories at the Oscars, ABC decided to liven things up by swapping them out for big, not-nominated names like Awkwafina, Chris Evans, and Jennifer Lopez. However, this appeared to leave 2018 winners like Allison Janney in the lurch, who wrote in a deleted Instagram comment that she was not asked to present.
“It’s looking like they are not going to honor the tradition this year,” she wrote, according to Vanity Fair. “It breaks my heart.”
The next day, the Academy announced that 2019 winners Gary Oldman, Allison Janney, Frances McDormand, and Sam Rockwell would in fact be returning to present their respective categories.
The Musical Performance Controversy
In January, AMPAS announced another change that — you guessed it — they had to reverse after backlash. While there was never an official announcement that the telecast would only include the performances of two Oscar-nominated original songs (as opposed to all five), Variety reports that producers told nominees that there "wasn't time" for “Shallow,” from A Star Is Born, “All the Stars,” from Black Panther, “I’ll Fight" from RGB, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns, and “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to all get their due. Once this rumour prompted backlash, the Academy announced the inclusion of all five performances on Twitter and, confusingly, an additional music performance from Queen and Adam Lambert in honour of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Commercial Break Controversy
And, finally, the most recent change the Academy walked back: presenting the awards for Best Cinematography, Live Action Short, Film Editing, and Make-up and Hairstyling during commercial breaks. This was a slap in the face to the hard work of the nominees in those categories, especially when announced less than two weeks before the ceremony.
The decision was meet with a ton of resistance from those in the industry. The president of the American Society of Cinematographers and a handful of Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated DPs had a meeting with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson and president John Bailey to express their disappointment with the decision. In addition, an open letter written by The American Society of Cinematographers protesting the decision was published and signed by big names like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Banks, Peter Dinklage, and Kerry Washington. As last week came to a close, the Oscars said "never mind!," and the categories will air as normal.
The 91st Academy Awards will air Monday 25th February at 1am UK time on Sky Cinema. They will last indefinitely.