Oscars 2021 face backlash against ‘no Zoom’ rule

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The 2021 Oscars are tweaking the awards show in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — but not in a way some would prefer.

Academy Awards producers are saying “no way” to using Zoom (and wearing jeans) for the ceremony next month. That’s a significant departure from the Grammys and the Golden Globes, which both decided to take a virtual turn — due to the still-raging COVID-19 crisis — by having winners and nominees dial into the show via Zoom.

The decision to deny the Hollywood elite from joining the ceremony virtually has caused some outcry within the industry. According to Variety, studio executives, publicists, filmmakers and the celebs who are up for awards this year are unhappy with the show’s producers, writing that it’s “unsafe and impractical to ask nominees to show up in person in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Last week, Academy Awards producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh wrote a letter to this year’s nominees, announcing there will be no Zoom option for stars who choose not to attend because of “scheduling or continued uneasiness about traveling.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is facing a push to reconsider their stance, with detractors noting that multiple nominees live in areas outside of the US and may be barred from traveling here. Nominees in categories such as Best International Feature Film could have especially low turnout at the ceremony.

Reflecting on the way that the past year’s Golden Globe, Grammy and Emmy winners accepted their awards virtually, the Oscars producers wrote: “We are going to great lengths to provide a safe and enjoyable evening for all of you in person, as well as for all the millions of film fans around the world, and we feel the virtual thing will diminish those efforts.”

While the letter states the awards show will have on-site rapid COVID testing available, nominees are responsible for their own expenses involved in travel and accommodations, causing worry for some smaller indie outfits that may be struggling financially in the pandemic.

Many stars are also currently filming projects on COVID-bubble sets. The academy may ask for nominees to quarantine from five to 14 days before coming to the ceremony. After attending the Oscars, that would mean the A-listers would not be able to return to work right away. They would need to quarantine for another 14 days if they leave the US, which could shut down productions for 10 to 30 days. 

Security is also a major issue for this year’s awards show. In the past, the ceremony would block off many streets surrounding the Dolby Theatre. This year’s taping will be held both there and at Union Station, where trains will still be running. So how will attendees be able to weave their way through the indoor and outdoor parts of the station? What if it rains? These sorts of problems plague the telecast producers in non-pandemic times, making Hollywood wonder what sort of contingency plans are in place. 

The Oscar nominations were announced on March 15 and contained the most diverse group in the award show’s almost-century-long history. For the first time, the Best Director category has two female nominees — Chloé Zhao of “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell of “Promising Young Woman” — and each of their films got a Best Picture nod. Nine out of the 20 acting nominees are people of color, including Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal,” the late Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and Steven Yeun for “Minari,” the first Asian-American man with a Best Actor nomination.

Producers may be afraid to make the ceremony virtual because the Globes and the Grammys suffered relatively low ratings. Those viewership dips were largely attributed to the telecasts’ reliance on videoconferencing, which led to technical difficulties and overdrawn speeches. The Oscars are the biggest night for film, and Hollywood wants to make it as big of a spectacle as possible.

Viewership for the 2021 Grammy Awards fell 53 percent from last year, to 8.8 million viewers, while the Golden Globes had a 60 percent drop, to 6.9 million viewers.

The Oscars will air April 25 on ABC.

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