The 91st Academy Awards are making headlines once more — but not because the show is only a few days away. This year, the Academy is in hot water thanks to a controversial programming decision that’s causing a considerable amount of backlash. So much so, that the Oscars may have already nixed the idea.
The Oscars were reportedly set to eliminate four categories from its live broadcast. Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live-Action Short, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling would instead be presented during commercial breaks. Needless to say, this wasn't received well by nominees in those categories, which included craftspeople from films like A Star Is Born, Mary, Queen of Scots, and BlacKkKlansman.
Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth in Mary, Queen of Scots
The decision sparked controversy aplenty when word got out, frustrating key industry figures and cinephiles alike. Not to mention, there’s been a modicum of confusing back-and-forth since. We’re here to help set things straight so you know what’s going down at this year’s show with a guide to what’s going on with all this talk about category cutting. Is it happening or what?
Why were the categories being cut in the first place?
It all comes down to editing for time. The decision was all part of a plan, in partnership with ABC, to reduce the lengthy show's runtime to just three hours. Planning began as early as August 2018, with the Academy working on a new format for the show to keep its bloated length down.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Academy president John Bailey initially sent an email to the group's members laying out the plan for the 2019 ceremony. He stated that, while the Academy is still "honoring the achievements of all 24 awards," they would indeed be announcing four categories during commercial breaks, with winners' speeches airing later in the broadcast.
He noted that the four categories receiving their awards during commercial breaks would be guaranteed a spot during 2020's broadcast as well. A video demonstration was reportedly shown to recipients of the email, where most of the presentation would be intact, minus each winner's walk to the stage. The goal was to enhance the "spirit" of each winner's speech, while also cutting down on time.
Bailey explained further that the Academy would also be streaming the four cut presentations online for fans around the world to enjoy.
"Fans will be able to watch on Oscar.com and on the Academy's social channels. The live stream is a first for our show, and will help further awareness and promotion of these award categories," he wrote.
But the decision to omit certain categories did not sit well with everyone. Why would cinematography and film editing, of all the awards up for grabs, be relegated to commercial breaks when they’re essential building blocks of any film project? This was the sentiment most shared. Hair and makeup are integral parts of productions as well — some would argue some of the most important work is done in the makeup chair. For example, would Christian Bale's Oscar-nominated performance as Dick Cheney be taken as seriously if the actor had not undergone a complete, head-to-toe physical transformation? Similarly, live-action shorts are just as valid as extended-length films.
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice
The idea that the show simply needed to be shorter didn’t lessen the anger or disrespect felt by those in the industry, including several Oscar-winning nominees and high-profile celebrities. And thus, the backlash commenced.
How did people respond?
To put it mildly, not well. The industry lit up with frustrated, angry filmmakers and Academy members who felt that the decision was a slight against their livelihood and the industry as a whole. They believed that pushing these four categories to commercial breaks was, in fact, downplaying folks’ achievements, and they swiftly made their anger known.
Alfonso Cuarón, who's nominated for producing, writing, directing, and handling the cinematography for his film Roma, was one of the decision's most vocal opponents, especially in both the cinematography and editing departments. Cuarón expressed his displeasure on Twitter.
“In the history of CINEMA, masterpieces have existed without sound, without color, without a story, without actors and without music,” he tweeted. “No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and without editing.”
His good pal and fellow Oscar-winning filmmaker director Guillermo del Toro made a humble suggestion to the Academy, noting that the categories up for omission are "cinema itself."
Others, like Colin Hanks, sarcastically noted the "irony" of what a lack of cinematography, editing, and hairstyling and makeup would make the ceremony: a live-action short.
Actor and comedian Billy Eichner made light of the situation, showing his displeasure with a joke.
"Just heard the Academy is giving out Best Actress tonight in the parking lot of Rite Aid on Santa Monica and La Brea around 2am. This isn’t right," he quipped.
Has anything changed since the announcement?
Actually, yes. Following an open letter penned by talent like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, del Toro, Cuarón, Christopher Nolan, and several other A-list cinematographers and directors, it appears the Academy has reversed its controversial decision.
The letter prompted a response from the Academy, including the following statement:
"Unfortunately, as the result of inaccurate reporting and social media posts, there has been a chain of misinformation that has understandably upset many Academy members," the response read. "We'd like to restate and explain the plans for presenting the awards, as endorsed by the Academy's Board of Governors."
The Academy explained that all 24 Oscar categories will indeed be presented on stage in the Dolby Theater and air on the live broadcast. It also noted that the representatives for the four categories had "volunteered" to be included later in the broadest, with time walking to and from the stage edited out of the footage.
So, right — this sounds like there's no need for cuts anymore, and the show can move forward as originally planned.
What’s happening next?
It appears as though the Oscars are proceeding as usual, as the Academy has now walked back their decision to change up the format.
Since it looks like the proposed cuts aren’t happening this year after all, a possible rotation in the future is a change the Academy is very much still interested in for the next ceremony, hearkening back to the institution's original email.
That means that if the Academy does go through with its initial plan during next year's telecast, we’ll likely be hearing some of the same debate — though there's no way of knowing if the same categories would be on the chopping block.
Director-star Bradley Cooper and his leading Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
"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," said the Academy of the impending ceremony. Of course, this is only the latest misstep in what's already been a messy Oscars season, with Kevin Hart's will-he-or-won't-he hosting saga and Lady Gaga's refusal to perform "Shallow" unless all five Best Original Song nominees were given a chance to perform during the telecast (yet another one of the Academy's reported time-cutting moves that went sour).
The hostless 91st Academy Awards are going down live on ABC on Sunday, February 24 — with all of its award presentations intact. Hopefully.