With the Oscars just 10 days away, the furor over the motion picture academy’s plan to move the presentation of four awards — cinematography, editing, live-action short, and hairstyling and makeup – to commercial breaks during the upcoming telecast shows no sign of abating.
On Thursday, several prominent members of the cinematography community, including American Society of Cinematographers president Kees van Oostrum and cinematographers Hoyte van Hoytema (“Dunkirk”), Emmanuel Lubezki (“The Revenant”) and Rachel Morrison (“Black Panther”), requested an urgent meeting with academy chief executive Dawn Hudson to attempt to get the decision reversed.
In a letter to the academy’s top brass, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, the cinematographers called the academy’s most recent defense of the plan — announced last August with the aim of bringing the often-bloated telecast down to three hours — “unsatisfying and oddly inaccurate.”
“To state that ‘No award category at the 91st Oscars ceremony will be presented in a manner that depicts the achievements of its nominees and winners any less than others’ is in direct conflict with the plan presented by you to Academy members this past Monday,” the letter states.
“The act of handing out certain awards during commercial breaks and then, at your discretion, airing this content, is most certainly depicting these categories in a lesser light than those being honored live in the spotlight on the main stage.”
Rebutting the academy’s claim that “inaccurate reporting and social media posts” had fueled the blowback, the cinematographers wrote, “There was simply no room for misinterpretation, misrepresentation or inaccuracy. And the media has reported well on this issue and should be commended for airing both sides equally.”
The cinematographers further criticize the academy’s leadership for failing to involve members in the decision-making process. “While you have stated that branch members were involved, and the Cinematography Branch ‘volunteered,’ it seems that almost no one knew much about this nor were any of the members at large consulted or allowed to weigh in (vote) in advance of the decision,” the letter states.
An open letter protesting the decision posted on the website of the American Society of Cinematographers — of which academy president John Bailey is a member — has received hundreds of signatures in the past 24 hours, including many boldfaced names from across the industry and past Oscar winners as well as current nominees such as Spike Lee, Alfonso Cuarón, Glenn Close and Emma Stone.
As of Wednesday, academy insiders said the decision to move the four categories to commercial breaks was unlikely to be reversed. An academy representative did not immediately respond to a query about the cinematographers’ request for a meeting.
But even as the Oscars producers are scrambling to put the final plans for this year’s show in place, the cinematographers showed no sign of being prepared to let the issue go.
“It’s important for the Academy to understand how unprecedented and surprising this decision was,” they write. “The Academy has done great things for the industry and its members and that is why the shockwave this created sparked such an emotional response. We love and respect this institution and are dedicated to its success.