Controversy over the motion picture academy’s plan to move four key Oscar categories to commercial breaks in this year’s telecast has continued to roil the industry, as a group of prominent filmmakers and actors, including numerous Oscar winners, issued an open letter criticizing the move and the academy sought to defend and clarify its decision.
In a Wednesday letter to the academy’s leadership and the producers of this year’s telecast, close to 400 Hollywood luminaries — including directors Damien Chazelle, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, cinematographers Roger Deakins, Caleb Deschanel and Ellen Kuras and actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and Kerry Washington — blasted the decision to hand out the cinematography, editing, live-action short and hairstyling-and-makeup awards during commercial breaks.
“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,” wrote the group, which issued the letter under the banner of the American Society of Cinematographers, of which academy president John Bailey is a member.
“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 continued. “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.”
While the letter urged the academy to reverse its decision, insiders say that — with the telecast less than two weeks away and the academy firmly committed to sticking to a three-hour telecast — that is unlikely.
In response, the academy’s leadership issued its own letter Wednesday evening, seeking to assure members 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,” the letter said.
Signed by Bailey and other key officers, the letter reiterated that all 24 awards will be presented during the show, with the winners’ speeches from the four impacted awards being edited into a later portion of the telecast. The letter noted that the four categories were volunteered by their respective branches and that the changes, which were announced in August, had the full support of the branch executive committees.
“Our show producers have given great consideration to both Oscar tradition and our broad global audience,” the letter concluded. “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 back-and-forth continued Thursday as additional industry groups weighed in, including the International Cinematographers Guild.
“This decision is extremely disheartening,” ICG president Steven Poster said in a statement. “As Matt Loeb, international president of the IATSE, said, ‘these below-the-line crafts including cinematographers, editors and hair and makeup stylists, are the very core of movie-making.’ I immediately reached out to Academy president John Bailey, a member of our own guild, who assured me that all of the nominees would be ‘noted’ during the broadcast. It’s not the same. This is a collaborative process and THIS CHANGE appears to elevate certain crafts above others. People wait their ENTIRE lives to receive an Oscar in front of millions and it is humiliating to have that moment reduced to an afterthought.”