I’m writing this not long after the news was announced, but there’s no doubt in my mind this will spark controversy.
In a letter to all nominees and US website ‘Deadline’, producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins had this to say, “[if you’re] unable to attend because of scheduling or continued uneasiness about travelling…there will not be an option to Zoom in for the show”. They wanted to assure all nominees that the ceremony will be “safe” and that there will be specific instructions to “ensure you have a safe, carefree evening”. They also seemed to ask the nominees not to dress casually.
I have a mixed mindset on this. On one hand, I get it. Some nominees may use the pandemic as an excuse not to turn up. This wouldn’t be an issue for this year specifically as nothing has been normal and it’s not like other awards shows haven’t done this and that we haven’t just had to make do with it. However, I can imagine the Academy’s main source of concern is that many nominees will use this as an excuse for the future to come, when this virus is, hopefully, over. Say if they’re busy filming, they live in another country, or simply can’t be bothered, it would be easy for them to say, “well, it worked last year, can’t I just do that again?”. The Academy are already having difficulty with ratings as the last few years have proven. Not even Billie Eilish performing in the memoriam section of the show could got younger audiences to tune in. So, like ratings aren’t bad enough, no one wants to watch a virtual Academy Awards, there’s just no buzz to it. I must admit whilst I’ve enjoyed predicting the awards and seeing if I’m right or wrong, the awards shows just have been kind of boring.
Moreover, allow me to cast your minds to a month ago, when the Academy announced there will be an in person event. They did this, or at least said they did this, because they wanted nominees and viewers to be able to have a bit of normality after a year which has asked “so much of so many”. I’m sure this was the Academy’s plan all along, but they definitely don’t want to go back on it. I’m sure many, including myself, are very excited to see an in person event after a year of people being separated. If they cancelled on it now this won’t be good for them at all. With the bad ratings the Oscars have already been getting, cancelling an in-person event when people got their hopes up and making it virtual will lead to bad press and even worse ratings.
Now, let me speak from the other side of my mouth. If you’re a nominee that can’t physically be at the Oscars due to travel restrictions, age, medical restrictions or for the pure and simple fact they don’t feel safe, I think this is entirely unfair and borderline cruel. Let’s take Anthony Hopkins for example. He is an older gentleman who currently resides in Malibu, California. Yes, he lives close to where the Academy Awards are held, but he is an old man and going would be difficult in the best of times. Now, he’s being forced to go so if he does win he can accept his award. This is unfair as you can never be 100% safe of the virus and him catching the virus would be fatal. He has been vaccinated, but it’s not the point. No one is truly safe from this virus until it’s properly gone. Anthony Hopkins is just an example, I’m sure there are many more in his shoes.
Also, some countries such as the UK have put in travel bans to stop variants coming into the country. So, Carey Mulligan who is our current Oscar front-runner for Best Actress, lives in the UK. If a travel ban is put in place to the US, she and others in the same situation as her will be basically getting punished for not arriving, over something that isn’t their fault.
I understand the Academy’s decision to make it an in person event, but they need to be more flexible. The simple fact is that not everyone will be able to attend the Oscars, and there needs to be a better system put in place so winners can still accept their awards, even if it means pulling the laptop screen up!