Following Sunday’s 94th Academy Awards, outrage over the Oscars controversy hasn’t subsided.
No, I’m not referring to THAT one, which is also unlikely to die down anytime soon. I’m referring to the one that began more than a month ago, over the Academy’s decision to present eight awards before the live telecast of the Oscars and add edited excerpts from their speeches into the broadcast.
After hearing from the winners backstage on Sunday — as well as nominees, past winners and other Academy members who watched from the affected categories — The Hollywood Reporter was hard pressed to find one that has something positive to say about the way in which this was handled.
“I hope you are hiding in shame and regret today,” wrote Oscar winning rerecording mixer Paul Massey in an email that he says he sent to Academy president David Rubin on Monday. “That was truly the WORST Oscar show ever to go on air. Fat, bloated, with no directive to keep it within three hours as we in the eight pre-recorded categories were promised. We were excluded for no reason.”
Massy, who this year received his 10th nomination, for No Time to Die, continued in his assessment of the show: “Full of over-indulgent intros with no regard for the talent that makes up the membership of the Academy … except for those truly above the line. The class system has NEVER been on such display as it was last night.”
The Academy did not comment for this piece.
In the controversy leading up to Sunday’s Oscars, the format change was attributed to a need to shake up the show. The 2021 ceremony was the lowest-rated Oscars telecast ever, with just 10.4 million viewers, which because of COVID-19 was a scaled-down event at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. This year’s show did better. The ABC broadcast drew 16.62 million viewers as it returned to Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, though it was the second-lowest rated show since Nielsen began tracking total viewers in the 1970s. Before 2021, each year’s ratings had topped 20 million.
The preshow message about the format change was that the 2022 Oscars had to control its length, but the telecast ultimately ran 3 hours and 40 minutes.
“The purpose as explained to us was to ensure that the show ran three hours, and that categorically went completely wrong,” said a nominee whose category wasn’t presented live. “My hope is the Academy has a major overhaul.”
Another Academy member, who has been Oscar nominated in previous years, said they were concerned going into the show that the telecast plan “seemed very disrespectful to many of the nominees and winners.”
“It turned out even worse,” said this Academy member, who noted the show ran over its goal time. “And they still couldn’t fit in the whole 45-second acceptance speeches in the eight excluded categories.”
Backstage on Sunday, multiple winners were critical of the format, including Dunes film editor Joe Walker, who pointed out the irony that his Oscar acceptance speech was edited — the beginning, the middle and the end. “We understand the pressure on the Academy,” Walker said, adding, “We all stand together in the Academy with equal strength, and I feel strongly that that was a disservice.” Jenny Beavan, who collected an Academy Award for costume design for cruella during the live show, said, “I think it felt cheating on the people.” And Alberto Mielgo, director of Oscar-winning animated shorts The Windshield Wiper, added, “I hope this is the last year they do that.”
After the show, it didn’t take long for the chorus of disapproval to spread. On Monday, Frank Oz said in a tweet, “After being a member for 30 years I’m embarrassed to be associated with the Oscars telecast. Not because of ‘The Slap’ but because of the phoniness of the show. All I sense is a desperate attempt to get more viewers by any means possible, not a show about the love of making movies.”
During a press conference held last week, Oscars producer Will Packer asserted, “We want to make sure that everybody has their moment on this show, and is handled with the same reverence and elegance that you’ve come to expect with the Oscars.” And on Monday he tweeted: “I’m so damn proud of this show!!! I’m grateful for all the appreciation, support and critiques. The LOVE has been overwhelming. It was a true honor and pleasure to take on this responsibility. @ShaylaCowan and I wanted an OSCARS that looked and felt different than any before it…”
But sources in the affected branches tell THR the way the eight categories were edited into the live broadcast felt clumsy and rushed.
“Joe Walker’s acceptance speech was truly witty and pointed in its full-length form, but not in the truncated version,” said an Oscar winner from a previous year. “The shortened categories seemed clumsily edited and hastily stuffed into the show. Better than last year — an easy target — and maybe the best in the last 10 years, but still a stinker. The Academy must find a new way to finance itself and get out from under the thumb of ABC/Disney.” (The Academy receives a licensing fee of around $100 million-plus for the show, plus a piece of advertising, sources say.)
“It was cumbersome, not smooth,” added a prior Oscar recipient from another branch. “It used to be a celebration of all aspects of moviemaking… They were abrupt; there was no chance to focus on what the award meant.”
A nominee in an affected branch pointed out that those — like themselves — who were seated for the so-called “golden hour” awards were in place by 4 pm, an hour before the live broadcast began, and were “exhausted from the length of the show … Everyone was so fed up by the end.”
As first reported in The Hollywood Reporter, prior to Sunday, Oscar-winning sound vet Tom Fleishman resigned his Academy membership over the decision to present the categories before the live broadcast, and four-time sound mixing nominee Peter Kurland said he intends to step down, while two recent Academy Award winners told THR that they were considering similar moves.
“This wasn’t the Academy Awards,” another Academy member told THR on Monday. “If this is going to be the new format, at that point I would have to give thought to if I want to stay in the Academy. A lot of people are thinking the same thing.”
Looking ahead, on Wednesday, a full meeting of the Academy’s board of governors is scheduled, though the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident is expected to be the main topic. Later, another board meeting is expected to include a full postmortem on the Oscars. This summer, the Academy will elect a new president, as Rubin has termed out, and a new CEO to replace the outgoing Dawn Hudson.
Massey concluded in his email to Rubin: “This awards season, your actions along with Dawn Hudson’s and the rest of the so-called ‘leadership’ have caused great damage to what was once heralded as a great institution — one to be held in high look. Well, no more — I am ashamed to be an Academy member, a nominee in a second-tier category (sound), having to explain your misguided decisions and actions to those outside of the industry. Shame on you — you’re leaving the Academy in shambles.”