Academy Leaders Defend Oscars Plan Amid Growing Revolt

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The decision this year to present four awards during commercial breaks has drawn widespread criticism.

Facing a growing revolt over its plan to present four Oscars during commercial breaks, the leadership of the Academy on Wednesday released a letter it has sent to its 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 Academy officers, led by president John Bailey, don't appear to be backing away from the plan. Rather, the letter restated how the awards would be presented in the four affected categories. And it blamed the growing negative reaction to the plan to "inaccurate reporting and social media posts...a chain of misinformation that has understandably upset many Academy members."

The Academy's response came quickly upon the heels of an open letter, signed by directors like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, cinematographers such as Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki and film editors like Tom Cross and William Goldenberg, calling the Academy's plan to handle four categories — cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts and makeup and hairstyling — differently than the other 20 Oscar categories "nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession." It called upon the Academy to reverse its decision.

(Directors Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, Alejandro G. Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro; and actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Banks, Peter Dinklage and Kerry Washington have since added their names.)

While the Academy's board of governors, with representatives from each of the organization's 17 branches, in August approved the plan to keeps the often-sprawling broadcast to three hours by presenting some awards during commercial breaks, the specifics of how the plan would be carried out were not known until earlier this week when Bailey sent an email to Academy members.

He explained that while the awards in four categories would be presented during the breaks, the winners' speeches would be taped and aired later in the broadcast. A demo video of how the presentations would appear on air was shown to the executive committees from various branches, and several sources who saw it said that they found it "respectful." According to Bailey, six branches volunteered, and four were ultimately selected. 

At first, Oscar fans raised the most vociferous objections. But over the course of the week, more and more industry figures have weighed in. In particular, they objected to key crafts like cinematography and editing seemingly being relegated to the sidelines.

Oscar-winning director William Friedkin on Tuesday posted a tweet in which he said, "What an insult to award two of the most essential qualities of film making in the commercial breaks. This is a misguided act that robs the awards of whatever relevance remains. It's now just a platform for commercials." 

Russell Crowe tweeted bluntly, "The Academy is removing cinematography, editing and makeup from the televised show? This is just a fundamentally stupid decision, I'm not even going to be bothered trying to be a smart arse about it. It's just too fucking dumb for words."

In reply to Crowe, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra's daughter, added, "I'd like to know who is making these careless decisions for the membership. I've been a member of the Academy for more than 50 years and I've never heard of anything this stupid or disrespectful. The founders would be very unhappy."

In their defense, the Academy leaders said the changes were fully discussed and agreed to by the 54-member board of governors in August. They emphasized that while the awards will be given out during the breaks, the winners' speeches will air later in the broadcast. And they also added that in future years, the categories that are presented during the breaks will rotate, presumably so that no one category will be stigmatized.

The letter said that in terms of editing the four awards presentations for later broadcast, what would be edited out would be "the time spend walking to the stage and off" — though it's not clear how much time that will actually save the broadcast. Last year's show ran for three hours and 53 minutes. Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, who are producing this year's show, are aiming to bring the show in on time at three hours. Shaving a couple of minutes each off of four categories would seem to save only 10 minutes or so.

In concluding their letter, the Academy's officers said, "Our show producers have given great consideration to both Oscar tradition and our broad global audience. 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."

The Academy letter follows:

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. 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.

·    All 24 Award categories are presented on stage in the Dolby Theatre, and included in the broadcast.

·    Four categories – Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Live Action Short – were volunteered by their branches to have their nominees and winners announced by presenters, and included later in the broadcast.  Time spent walking to the stage and off, will be edited out.

·    The four winning speeches will be included in the broadcast.

·    In future years, four to six different categories may be selected for rotation, in collaboration with the show producers.  This year’s categories will be exempted in 2020.

·    This change in the show was discussed and agreed to by the Board of Governors in August, with the full support of the branch executive committees. Such decisions are fully deliberated.

Our show producers have given great consideration to both Oscar tradition and our broad global audience. 

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.

John Bailey, President
Lois Burwell, First Vice President
Sid Ganis, Vice President
Larry Karaszewski, Vice President
Nancy Utley, Vice President
Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer
David Rubin, Secretary