The fallout from the Academy’s decision to present four Oscar categories during commercial breaks and air edited versions of those acceptance speeches later in the telecast has been swift since the Academy first unveiled it on Monday. But now that dozens of directors, cinematographers, and filmmakers have openly decreed the Academy for the decision, the Academy is clarifying its latest controversial plan to shorten the Oscar run time.
In a new email sent out to Academy members Wednesday, the Academy’s Board of Governors wanted to reiterate what it had planned in store. The Academy Awards, the letter stated, would still be awarding Oscars to the four categories—cinematography, editing, live-action short, and makeup and hairstyling—on Feb. 24 and air during the show’s broadcast.
It also pinned the confusion over what the Academy planned to do on “inaccurate reporting and social media posts.” Essentially, fake news.
“As the Academy’s officers, we’d like to assure you that no award category at the 91st Oscars ceremony will be presented in a manner that depicts the achievements of its nominees and winners as less than any others,” the letter read. “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. We’d like to restate and explain the plans for presenting the awards, as endorsed by the Academy’s Board of Governors.”
The Board of Governors laid down the specifics of its plan to award Oscars to a few categories during commercial breaks more plainly, plans that were first approved in August. The heads of the branches affected this year volunteered their categories to be awarded during commercial breaks and would affect four to six categories each year (which would be exempt from the practice the following year). And although viewers wouldn’t see those awards being handed out live, they would see their acceptance speech aired later in the show.
As Academy members are asked about the changes in store for the ceremony, there is the potential for confusion or what it had intended to get lost in the shuffle. As we’ve already seen over the past several months, many of the Academy’s choices for the 91st Academy Awards have been hugely unpopular as ABC and the Academy attempt to entice more viewers to watch the Oscars. Many of those decisions have been reversed after public backlash from critics, filmmakers, and the film community followed.
However, many of the new policy’s most vocal critics understood exactly what the Academy meant by moving four categories to commercial breaks (whether they read it in reports, heard it elsewhere, or read the original Academy email) and they’re pissed off anyway.
Take, for instance, that open letter signed by more than 40 cinematographers, directors, and filmmakers including Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Damien Chazelle, and Martin Scorcese—many of them Oscar winners themselves. In the letter, they called moving those categories to commercial breaks “nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.” They even acknowledged that edited, “emotionally resonant” versions of those speeches would air later during the Academy Awards. But they still objected to the Academy’s decision.
“Since its inception, the Academy Awards telecast has been altered over time to keep the format fresh, but never by sacrificing the integrity of the Academy’s original mission,” the letter stated. “When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form. To quote our colleague Seth Rogen, ‘What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.’”
Another moment that critics of moving several technical categories to commercial breaks point to as a reason to not remove it is last year’s best cinematography winner, Roger Deakins. The famed cinematographer received his first Oscar after 14 nominations, and as he walked toward the stage to accept the award, he received a standing ovation from the audience. Hypothetically, in a year where the award is handed off during a commercial break, audiences might not have ever seen that moment.
By clarifying what it meant by moving four Oscar categories to commercial breaks, the Academy likely hoped to alleviate some of the anger directed its way. But even with the initial outrage over the move, this latest move could potentially make things worse.