Film Academy Board Set to Postpone Oscars Ceremony and Extend Eligibility Window (Exclusive)

92nd Annual Academy Awards - Backstage - Getty - H 2020
Richard Harbaugh - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

On Monday morning, four days after meeting and voting to enact a number of major diversity measures, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will again convene via Zoom to tackle another pressing issue: the date of Hollywood's biggest night of 2021.

The 93rd Oscars ceremony has long been scheduled for Feb. 28, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has thrown 2020 into disarray for Hollywood, shuttering theaters across America; preventing production and postproduction work on films that were slated to be ready for release by year's end; and disrupting elite film festivals like those in Cannes and Venice that often serve as launching pads for contenders.

The Hollywood Reporter has learned that the Academy's 54 governors are likely to delay the ceremony's date by as many as eight weeks, and to extend the eligibility window beyond Dec. 31, 2020, in recognition of the fact that the coronavirus has not yet receded — in fact, California's three highest days of new reported cases have all happened this month — and, according to some experts, could surge again with a 'second wave' before year's end.

The governors are not expected to determine the format for the ceremony yet — in-person or virtual — as they feel they still have time to see how the pandemic unfolds before making that call. They did, however, need to put a hold on a new date on the calendar of their broadcasting partner, ABC.

While highly unusual, these moves by the Academy are not unprecedented. The Oscars has been delayed three times before — due to L.A. flooding in 1938; following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968; and after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. And, as I noted back in March, the Oscars eligibility window was extended beyond the traditional 12-month period once before, ahead of the sixth Oscars. That ceremony, in March 1934, was preceded by a 17-month eligibility window spanning Aug. 1, 1932, through Dec. 31, 1933, so that thereafter the eligibility period could be the actual calendar year preceding each ceremony, Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

The Academy's board must also soon decide what to do about its 12th annual Governors Awards ceremony, a separate major event that it hosts, usually in the second week of November — last year being an exception, as the whole Oscar season timetable was moved up to avoid a conflict with the Olympics, which itself wound up being postponed due to the pandemic — at which it presents honorary Oscars and, in some years, its Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. I have heard speculation that honorees could still be announced in September, as usual, but presented with their prizes on the actual Oscars telecast rather than on a separate evening (as was the case in the years before the Governors Awards ceremony). And I know that there are more than a few who would like to see the Hersholt awarded this year to Sean Penn, the actor-director who has a long history of hands-on activism — in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in Haiti after a devastating earthquake in 2010 and, most recently, by providing free COVID-19 tests in Los Angeles and across America, including at the sites of Black Lives Matter protests.

The Oscars is not the only major awards ceremony currently in flux. The 74th Tony Awards originally was scheduled to take place June 7 (and air on CBS), but was postponed and has not been rescheduled; there has been talk that the ceremony will be canceled altogether, even though a great many Broadway shows had already opened and been seen by Tonys voters prior to Broadway shutting down. The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, meanwhile, has not been moved from its long-planned date of Sept. 20 (like the Oscars, it is set to air on ABC), nor has the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremonies that are set to precede it on Sept. 12 and 13 — but its organizers will soon have to determine whether or not those gatherings can be held in person.