A lengthy list of leading filmmakers and actors are blasting the Academy's plan to present four awards categories at the upcoming 91st Oscars during commercial breaks as "nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession." They are calling for the Academy to reverse its decision.
Their remarks are part of an open letter that has been signed by such directors as Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Quentino Tarantino; cinematographers including Roger Deakins, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubeski and Robert Richardson; editors Tom Cross, William Goldenberg and Mary Jo Markey; and additional past and present Oscar nominees and winners from those branches and others including production design, sound and VFX.
Directors Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, Alejandro G. Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, along with actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Banks, Peter Dinklage and Kerry Washington, have since added their names to the growing list.
With the Feb. 24 awards show, set to air on ABC, just 11 days away, the Academy and the show's producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss are now facing what is becoming an open revolt.
"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 letter reads. "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."
In an email to the Academy membership on Monday, Academy president John Bailey, who belongs to the cinematographers branch, laid out the plan for this year's show, including the presentation of four Oscar categories — cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts and makeup and hairstyling — during commercial breaks. (This was first announced last year but without details and specific categories.)
Bailey emphasized that the Academy is "still honoring the achievements of all 24 awards on the Oscars." In the case of the four categories that will be announced during commercial breaks, the winners' speeches will air later in the broadcast, he said. The plans call for there to be a rotation each year, meaning that at least four different categories would use this format in 2020.
The Academy quickly responded to the open letter on Wednesday with its own letter to members, assuring them 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 complete original letter is below. A letter with the new names can be found here.
An Open Letter to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Producers of the 91st Annual Academy Awards Broadcast:
On Monday, February 11, 2019, John Bailey, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, announced that this year’s Oscar presentations for Best Cinematography — along with Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling — will not be broadcast live, but rather presented during a commercial break. This decision was made to reduce the length of the show from four hours to three. The vocal response from our peers and the immediate backlash from industry leaders over the Academy’s decision makes it clear that it’s not too late to have this decision reversed.
The Academy was founded in 1927 to recognize and uphold excellence in the cinematic arts, inspire imagination and help connect the world through the universal medium of motion pictures.
Unfortunately, we have drifted from this mission in our pursuit of presenting entertainment rather than in presenting a celebration of our art form and the people behind it.
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 show’s director, Glenn Weiss, has stated that he will determine what “emotionally resonant” moments from the four winners’ speeches will be selected to air later in the broadcast. The show will cut any additional comment from presenters, as well as any recitation of the nominees as they see fit.
We consider this abbreviation and potential censorship to run contrary to the spirit of the Academy’s mission.
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.
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.”
Anthony Dod Mantle
Newton Thomas Sigel
Hoyte van Hoytema
Kees van Oostrum
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alan Edward Bell
Sophie De Rakoff
Mary Jo Markey
Tatiana S. Riegel
Anna B. Sheppard
Terilyn A. Shropshire
Feb. 14, 8:42 a.m. Updated with additional names.