Yes it’s true: Back in 1966 Sir Laurence Olivier scored a Best Actor nomination (along with three supporting actors) for his blackface “Othello” in a hybrid stage/film production from the National Theatre. And a decade later, James Whitmore was nominated for Best Actor for his role as president Harry S. Truman in “Give ’em Hell, Harry!,” a wobbly video of a stage play that didn’t even make it to New York until 2008.
This has led folks to speculate that Thomas Kail’s film, cut together from several 2016 performances of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical “Hamilton” (which won 11 Tony awards including Best Musical), could make a splash at the 2021 Oscars. Well, the Academy has shut the door on that possibility. “Hamilton” is not eligible. And that’s not because it streamed on Disney+ a full year before it was supposed to hit theaters, driving up Disney}+ app downloads by 72 percent over the July 4 holiday weekend.
In this strange pandemic year, the Academy is allowing streaming debuts to complete at the Oscars, as long as they were planning to play in theaters at some point. “Hamilton” is not eligible for awards consideration simply because it’s a recorded performance. Why wouldn’t it be eligible as a documentary, like say, Jonathan Demme’s concert film “Stop Making Sense”? Per documentary Oscar rules laid down in 1997, works that are essentially promotional or instructional are not eligible, nor are works that are essentially unfiltered records of performances. At the time of Whitmore’s nomination, there was no language that would have made that film or performance ineligible.
The Golden Globes, with its musical/comedy category and a different set of rules, might be another matter. How hard Disney will campaign this filmed “Hamilton” performance if the Globes should allow it for consideration is uncertain: there is still a plan for an actual “Hamilton” movie at some point, not just a recording of a performance on stage.