When it was reported last week that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that there would be no COVID vaccination mandate at the Oscars in March, online backlash was swift. It appears that the Academy’s response was equally swift, as the organization has revised its rules for the upcoming ceremony. While there will still be no vaccination requirement for performers and presenters, nominees and guests will need to be vaccinated to attend. The New York Times, who first reported the news, said that every attendee will be required to show negative PCR tests.
In addition to the vaccine policy, the Academy clarified their masking rules for the Oscars. Nominees and their invited guests will not be required to wear masks in the theater and will be seated near the stage with social distancing in place. Other attendees seated further back will have to wear face coverings, as they will be sitting shoulder to shoulder.
With Omicron cases continuing to fall and public health officials indicating that the worst of the wave is behind us, many states are loosening their COVID restrictions. Even California, which maintained some of the strictest rules throughout 2021, has ended its statewide mask mandate. The Oscars seemed well-positioned for an in-person event, as the risk of a deadly COVID outbreak seems low. However, attempting to balance the personal risk tolerance levels of thousands of different people in order to thread a PR needle has been an ongoing challenge for the Academy.
Industry speculation has run rampant that the Academy’s hesitance to mandate vaccinations is an attempt to maximize the number of celebrities attending the event. While Hollywood has publicly presented a mostly unified front encouraging fans to get vaccinated, some individual celebrities are privately holding out. As Oscar television ratings decline each year, star power is essential. Unvaccinated stars missing the ceremony could become particularly problematic if it would interrupt longheld Oscar traditions, like the past year’s acting winners presenting the trophy in their categories.
Last week, IndieWire’s Anne Thompson wrote that “one of the four 2021 acting winners traditionally expected to present to this year’s counterparts is not vaccinated, per The Hollywood Reporter. Both Anthony Hopkins and Yuh-jung Youn were publicly jabbed, and no attendee of last year’s New York Film Festival, including Frances McDormand, could get around the strict no-exceptions safety protocols at Lincoln Center. That leaves last year’s Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya as possibly not vaccinated.”
The 94th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 27th in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.