Update: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced on Monday that the 93rd Oscars will be held on April 25, 2021. The eligibility deadline will be extended for two months, until February 28, 2021.
On Sunday, news leaked that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was considering postponing the 93rd Oscars ceremony, originally set for February 28, 2021, due to the still-raging coronavirus pandemic. The Hollywood Reporter announced that the governing body of Hollywood would convene via Zoom on June 15 to decide on a final date for the ABC broadcast. But the report also hinted that they might also extend the eligibility deadline beyond December 31, 2020 in order to allow more films to be considered for American cinema’s highest honours.
The first part makes sense. Given what we know about the disease, and the still uncertain availability of a vaccine, cramming Hollywood’s elite into an auditorium for several hours seems unwise, to put it mildly. While there has been talk of hosting the ceremony virtually, which would remove the concern of social distancing, that would also come at the cost of significantly reducing viewership (no red carpet!), something the Academy is rightly fearful of. In that context, potentially pushing back the ceremony for eight weeks, as is being proposed, seems like the right thing to do.
It’s the second part of the news that’s immediately concerning. To a certain extent, I understand the impulse behind the Academy’s desire to extend the eligibility deadline. Many films have been forced to push back their original theatrical releases, with no real idea of when it will be safe enough to go back into cinemas. Other projects still in production have had to shut down entirely, throwing off a carefully planned schedule and piling up losses to the tune of millions of dollars. Prestigious film festivals like Tribeca and Cannes, which are the traditional launching pads for awards-contenders, were cancelled, and the future of fall’s Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival in October remains in flux.
In April, the Academy announced that it was changing the 2021 rules to temporarily allow films without a theatrical release to compete for the first time in Oscars history. This seemed like great news for independent filmmakers — many of them women and BIPOC — whose films tend to be overlooked in the wave of studio-backed behemoths with a well-oiled and well-funded awards campaign. In fact, when the news broke, I joked to friends about the irony that it would probably take a pandemic for the Oscars to nominate women and marginalised filmmakers.
Extending the eligibility date for the 2021 Oscars would have the opposite effect. In fact, it reads as the Academy going out of its way not to nominate the kinds of underdog movies that have fallen through the cracks in the past.
This is especially ironic given the resolutions passed by the Academy board just last week, which set up a diversity and inclusion task force “to develop and implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31, 2020.” The Academy also announced that starting in 2022, the Best Picture category would go back to being a fixed 10-film category, instead of shifting on a year-to-year basis, in the hopes of allowing more films to compete.
Last year’s controversy over whether Academy members were actually watching all the screeners sent to them — and more specifically, whether white men were giving films like Greta Gerwig's Little Women their due consideration — before voting also prompted the announcement of a “quarterly viewing process,” which would allow voters to watch Oscar contenders from home year-round. But this will only start in the lead-up to the 94th Oscars, a full year from now. Why is the Academy dragging its feet?
Still, what’s especially egregious is the suggestion that we’d need to look beyond December 2020 to find Oscar-movies. On Friday, Spike Lee released Da 5 Bloods, his epic take on the Black experience in the Vietnam War, on Netflix to rave reviews. Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors are already being held up as potential Best Actor front-runners — and need I remind you that Lee has never won an Oscar for directing?
As of this moment, Christopher Nolan’s reportedly mind-bending Tenet is still slated for release in late July (even if the filmmaker pushed the film back two weeks); Nia DaCosta’s Candyman remake is set to hit cinemas in September; Cary Fukunaga’s highly anticipated James Bond flick, No Time to Die, just changed its release date to November 20, 2020; Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984 is now planned for October 2020; and Antebellum, written and directed by artist activist duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, is scheduled for August. All of these have the clout to be considered Oscars heavy-hitters — even if they end up in a VOD release.
And then there are the phenomenal movies that aren’t seen as traditional Oscar picks, but should be: Films like Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, a colourful, genre-bending action thriller starring Margot Robbie as Gotham villainess Harley Quinn; Autumn de Wilde’s fresh and horny adaptation of Emma; Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole’s Blow the Man Down, basically feminist murder sea-shanty in film form; Premature, Rashad Ernesto Green’s beautiful ode to love and Harlem; The Assistant, Kitty Green's brutal and quiet film about workplace sexual harassment; and Carlos Mirabella-Davis’ gorgeously squirmy body horror film Swallow, which centers around a woman (Haley Bennet) who develops pica while pregnant.
The Academy finally has the opportunity to lift up movies like Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which carefully and painfully walks viewers through the obstacles to getting an abortion. It can nominate Elisabeth Moss for her searing performances in both The Invisible Man AND Josephine Decker’s Shirley. (While we’re on the subject, let’s not forget about Michael Stuhlbarg!) It can celebrate The Half of It, Alice Wu’s tender and honest depiction of LGBTQ+ coming-of-age. It can recognize the stylish direction of Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, which premieres on VOD June 19, and finally give Nicole Beharie the respect she deserves.
Yes, this year is very different than the ones that came before it. But rather than running away from that change, it’s time Hollywood embraced it.