The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences keeps adding new Zoom Board meetings to the schedule. Amid the Black Lives Matter protests, the Governors moved up the vote on their planned phase-two diversity initiatives to June 11, pushing back the debate on the new Oscar date to another time.
That meeting will now take place four days later, on Monday, June 15, as the Board sees the necessity of giving the industry the opportunity to do something it once took for granted: Plan. Now everyone is waiting to make their decisions, from the Guilds to Globes (“It’s fluid,” wrote one Hollywood Foreign Press Association member in an email).
While the Oscars committee has briefed the governors on possibly pushing the telecast back by eight weeks, the Academy is keeping its options open with ABC. Nobody expects the Academy to keep the February 28 Oscars date. But until the Board votes, nothing is decided.
That’s the point of having the 54 governors, representing 17 branches, weigh in fresh and hash things out at a separate meeting. With a date change would come an extended eligibility period, to give a wider swath of films, many of them independent, a chance in the marketplace.
While there are precedents for changing the Oscar date — the Oscars were delayed in 1938 (the flood in Los Angeles), 1968 (the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and 1981 (after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan) — nothing like the 2020 pandemic has ever happened to Hollywood.
The film industry is on its knees, with some theaters around the country slowly opening, and others firmly closed as COVID spikes alarm theater owners as well as public officials, and speculation about a second wave throws more uncertainty into the mix.
The summer movie schedule is in flux, with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” moving back two weeks to July 31, and Disney’s live-action “Mulan” poised as the first big-studio wide release on July 24. How firm are those dates, and how wide? Nobody knows.
Still, most Oscar seasons are comprised of movies that have opened after Labor Day weekend, which marks the start of the fall season. But festivals from Venice and Telluride to Toronto and New York don’t know what form their annual events will take this year.
At the last meeting, the Academy did optimistically commit, for the 94th Oscars in 2022, to a full 10 Best Picture nominees. According to one Academy source, due to the impact of COVID-19 on Hollywood production and distribution, the governors wanted to give some breathing room to next year’s potential Best Picture nominees. So, this may not be a permanent rule change.
In a move to ensure that Academy voting members have a chance to see all eligible movies, the Academy is making its award-season Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, available year-round, starting with the 94th Academy Awards. The Screening Room will stream movies to members throughout the year, with availability during the quarter they are released. The goal is to broaden each film’s exposure and level the playing field. The 2021 Oscars marks the last year DVD screeners will be sent to members.
With the impending date change, as well as permitting some streaming titles to compete, the Academy is clearly leaning in to helping filmmakers get what they need. This could benefit lower-budget films with more time to play in theaters, especially since campaign overspending may not play this Oscar season.