LOS ANGELES – From going without a host to handing out key awards during commercial breaks to a quickly nixed idea for a popular film category — Oscar organizers are struggling to keep Hollywood’s biggest night relevant while dealing with messy controversies.
With less than two weeks to go before the Feb. 24 gala, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been weathering the latest debacle, over four awards to be presented off-air — a decision many in the industry have denounced as “stupid” and “disrespectful.”
The awards are best cinematography, best film editing, best live action short and best makeup and hairstyling.
Academy President John Bailey informed the membership of the plan this week, saying it was in line with a promise to shorten the broadcast to three hours, an hour shorter than previous telecasts.
The decision has been met with derision across the industry, with more than 40 top cinematographers and directors — including Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee — sending a letter of protest to the academy. Also adding their names were directors Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Cuaron and actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Robert de Niro, Sandra Bullock, Emma Stone and Jon Hamm.
“Relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status in this 91st Academy Awards ceremony is nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession,” the open letter read.
Cuaron, whose movie “Roma” has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best cinematography, said the move amounted to marginalizing key players in the art of moviemaking. “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.”
Lee, whose film “BlacKkKlansman” has been nominated in six categories, including for best director, also weighed in during an interview on U.S. television. “As a director, without my cinematographer, editor, hair and makeup, there’s no movie,” he said, suggesting Oscar organizers “get rid of musical numbers” to stick to a three-hour running time.
The academy tried to clarify its decision, underlining in a letter to members that while the four awards will not be seen live, the winning speeches will air later in the broadcast and will also be live-streamed.
Bailey also noted the change in the show had been approved by the academy’s board of governors.
The debacle comes on the heels of another brouhaha over the show, which will take place without a host for the first time in 30 years.
Comedian Kevin Hart stepped down as emcee in December — just days after accepting the gig — following a fierce backlash on social media over old homophobic tweets.
Months earlier, the academy rankled Hollywood with the announcement of a new Oscar designed to reward popular films — a decision widely seen as a bid to increase viewership.
That proposal was also shelved following a huge backlash.
Industry experts say the academy is solely to blame for its sloppy handling of the recent debacles, which have unfolded just as the organization appeared to have weathered the 2016-17 #OscarSoWhite storm over the lack of racial diversity among nominees.
“They don’t message these changes that they are trying to make properly and they don’t sell them properly,” said Anne Thompson, editor at large for movie blog IndieWire. “They actually don’t seem to understand the contemporary landscape of public relations, as a big corporation should be cognizant of how these things can play out,” she added.
Thompson said that although the academy was under tremendous pressure by ABC, which broadcasts the ceremony, to shorten the Oscars and boost ratings, it was going against its own mission to celebrate filmmaking.
“Somehow they have been sending a different message, which is that they are catering to ABC,” she added.
“But the reason the Oscars have been such a trusted and powerful awards broadcast is that they are voted on by the respected artists who make the movies.”
Information from Reuters added