2019 Academy Awards: Academy announces which awards won’t be televised; controversy ensues

February 11, 2019

by John Larson

Alfonso Cuarón and Yalitza Aparicio on the set of “Roma” (Photo by Carlos Somonte/Netflix)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that categories of Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Live-Action Short will be dropped from the Oscar telecast at the 91st Academy Awards, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 24, 2019. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. The Academy announced in August 2018 that, in order to keep the Oscar telecast strictly limited to three hours, the 2019 Oscar ceremony would drop a certain number of categories from the telecast and would instead give the awards during commercial breaks. The winners would then be listed on-screen instead of having their entire acceptance speeches televised.

At the time the Academy announced in August 2018 that it would be dropping a certain number of categories from the Oscar telecast, the Academy did not specify how many and which categories would be dropped but did say that it would not be the same categories that would be dropped every year. Many people assumed that any of the three categories for short films (live-action, animation and documentaries), would be the most likely to be dropped since short films are the least-seen films of the Oscar nominees. The technical categories for sound editing and sound mixing also seemed likely to get dropped from the telecast. Therefore, it was a shock to many industry professionals that cinematography and film editing—which are considered two of the most crucial aspects of filmmaking—were among the dropped categories. Although there has been some criticism for dropping the makeup/hairstyling and live-action shorts categories, most of the criticism is over dropping the categories for cinematography and film editing.

The Academy’s announcement was met with immense backlash from Academy voters, other industry professionals and movie fans, who voiced their opinions on social media and elsewhere. Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who has several Oscar nominations this year for “Roma,” including for Best Cinematography, tweeted this criticism of the Academy’s decision to drop the Best Cinematography prize from the Oscar telecast: “In the history of CINEMA, masterpieces have existed without sound, without color, without a story, without actors and without music. No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and without editing.” Cuarón has won Oscars for producing, directing and co-editing the 2013 film “Gravity,” which also won Oscars for cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, original score and visual effects.

Cuarón is the writer, director, editor and cinematographer of “Roma,” as well as one of the film’s producers. He has already won several prizes as the director, cinematographer and producer of “Roma,” a Spanish-language movie filmed in black and white. “Roma” is tied with “The Favourite” for the most Oscar nominations (10) this year. Oscar nominations for “The Favourite” include those for cinematography and film editing.

Kees van Oostrum, the president of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), issued this statement: “After receiving many comments on this matter from ASC members, I think I speak for many of them in declaring this a most unfortunate decision. We consider filmmaking to be a collaborative effort where the responsibilities of the director, cinematographer, editor and other crafts often intersect. This decision could be perceived as a separation and division of this creative process, thus minimizing our fundamental creative contributions. The Academy is an important institution that represents our artistry in the eyes of the world. Since the organization’s inception 91 years ago, the Academy Awards have honored cinematographers’ talent, craft and contributions to the filmmaking process, but we cannot quietly condone this decision without protest.”

He also told Variety: “The decision can only be seen as a diminution of our contribution. It’s absolutely the wrong message. My phone has been ringing off the hook. It also diminishes the contribution of editors, with whom we collaborate very closely.”

Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”) was among the celebrities, such as Alec Baldwin and Seth Rogen, who condemned the decision. Crowe tweeted in an expletive-peppered statement: “The Academy is removing cinematography, editing and makeup from the televised show? This is just a fundamentally stupid decision, I’m not even going to be bothered to be a smart arse about it. It’s just too fucking dumb for words.”

Meanwhile, several people who are not happy about the dropped categories began posting the hashtag #boycottoscars on social media in addition to expressing their outrage and disgust. Several of the protesters say that tedious monologues, skits and stunts should be dropped from the Oscar telecast instead of dropping important award categories.

The decision to drop these categories is one of several controversies and public-relations missteps by the Academy over the 2019 Oscars. In January 2019, comedian/actor Kevin Hart dropped out of hosting the show because of his past homophobic remarks and disagreements over how he would make a public apology. Less than a month later, the Academy considered having only two of the five Best Original Song nominations performed at the ceremony, which was idea that was swiftly shot down by the nominees, Academy members and the general public. And in August 2018, the Academy announced the addition of a “popular films” category, an idea that was dropped a month later due to immense backlash from the industry and the general public. It didn’t help that when the Academy announced the “popular films” category, it did not explain how films would qualify for that category.

Academy members have made it clear on social media that it is the Academy’s board of directors and branch governors, not the membership as a whole, who have made these decisions without full input from voting membership. Ratings for the Oscars, as well as for almost all major televised award shows, have been on a downward spiral for the past few years. The 2018 Oscar telecast was the lowest-rated in Oscar history so far, with 26.5 million U.S. viewers.

The 91st Oscar ceremony is being produced by Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, who is also directing the show. It will be the first Oscar ceremony since 1989 to not have a host.

February 13, 2019 UPDATE: According to Deadline, about 99 prominent filmmakers (including Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Seth Rogen; Oscar-winning directors Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee and Damien Chazelle; and Oscar-winning cinematographers Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki and Janusz Kaminski; and Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell) signed an open letter to the Academy vehemently protesting the decision to have four award categories presented during the commercial breaks.

In response, the Academy’s board of governors issued a statement that appears to backtrack from the Academy’s previous hints that the winners’ speeches in those categories would not be televised. The statement clarifies that the speeches will be televised, but the speeches will be shown later in the Oscar telecast. What the statement does not say is if or how much the speeches will be edited. Considering that reducing the ceremony’s running time was the main reason from not having these four categories presented in the same manner as the other categories, it’s likely that the speeches that happen during the commercial breaks will be heavily edited.

Here is the statement from the Academy:

“We’d like to restate and explain the plans for presenting the awards, as endorsed by the Academy’s Board of Governors.”

· All 24 Award categories are presented on stage in the Dolby Theatre, and included in the broadcast.· Four categories – Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Live Action Short – were volunteered by their branches to have their nominees and winners announced by presenters, and included later in the broadcast. Time spent walking to the stage and off, will be edited out.

· The four winning speeches will be included in the broadcast.

· In future years, four to six different categories may be selected for rotation, in collaboration with the show producers. This year’s categories will be exempted in 2020.

· This change in the show was discussed and agreed to by the Board of Governors in August, with the full support of the branch executive committees.

Such decisions are fully deliberated. Our show producers have given great consideration to both Oscar tradition and our broad global audience.We sincerely believe you will be pleased with the show, and look forward to celebrating a great year in movies with all Academy members and with the rest of the world.

John Bailey, President
Lois Burwell, First Vice President
Sid Ganis, Vice President
Larry Karaszewski, Vice President
Nancy Utley, Vice President
Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer
David Rubin, Secretary

February 15, 2019 UPDATE: The Academy has reversed its decision, and the Oscar ceremony will go back to fully televising all of the award categories. Click here for the full story.

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