Why has the build-up to the 2019 Oscars been so chaotic and controversial?

No host! Unpopular decisions! Multiple backlashes! It’s looking to be an interesting night at the 91st Academy Awards…

Oscars chaos and controversy, Getty

When the wrong film was announced as the Best Picture winner at the 2016 Oscars, many of us would never have thought the Academy could bungle a ceremony quite so badly again – but 2019 is already giving the great La La Land/Moonlight snafu a run for its money.

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Oscars Statuettes for the Academy Awards, Getty

From cancelled hosts, failed attempts to introduce new categories and wildly unpopular attempts to cut down the length of the TV broadcast, it’s fair to say that over the past few months a series of backlashes on social media has done more than enough to put the 2019 Oscars on the map for all the wrong reasons, and all before the actual ceremony has even begun.

But if you’ve not been keeping up with all the drama, never fear – we’ve collated that’s befallen the Oscars this year below.

Starting with a surprisingly UNpopular Popular decision…


Best Popular Film category is scrapped

black panther

The build-up for this year’s Oscars didn’t get off to the best start when the Academy announced that they were adding a new category this year: Best Popular Film, in an attempt to reward the sort of blockbusters and fan-favourite movies that often don’t get their due at award ceremonies.

“In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films,” the Academy said in August 2018, but there was already a problem – pretty much everyone hated the idea.

Many pointed out that the category would essentially just segregate blockbusters and other movies even further, in the same way that Foreign Language, Animated and Documentary Filmmaking shortlists already do (very few films in those categories are nominated for Best Picture as well, let alone win), while others were concerned that essentially adding in a load of superhero movies would dumb down the ceremony.

The Academy was also criticised for choosing to create the category instead of setting up an outlet to honour stunt performers, a group who have long lobbied for inclusion in major awards alongside their behind-the-scenes brethren (sound editors, production designers et al) to no avail.

In the face of the backlash, the Academy responded fairly quickly, cancelling the Best Popular Film category (or at least delaying it for a while) just a month after it had first been announced.

“I wasn’t expecting that kind of knee-jerk reaction, largely from journalists,” Academy president John Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter.

“I don’t know why that happened because these are the same people who have also criticised the Academy for being quote unquote irrelevant and not actually addressing the taste of people that go to the movies.

“The same people who have criticised us for irrelevance and elitism now suddenly were the guardians at the gate, talking about the bowdlerisation of the Oscars.”

Still, at least they could rest easy, knowing that they were free of any more backlashes in the four months or so until the awards ceremony began. Right?



Kevin Hart quits as host

Kevin Hart, Getty
 

Well, no. As it turned out, The Academy’s problems were just beginning.

In December, a couple of months on from the Best Popular Film debacle, the host of this year’s Oscars ceremony was announced – actor and comedian Kevin Hart, best known for his roles in big-budget comedies like Jumanji, who was sure to bring some gags for the ceremony’s opening monologue, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Kimmel, Chris Rock and Ellen DeGeneres.

However, the response to Hart’s appointment quickly turned sour, with many noting that Hart had made homophobic comments on Twitter in the past, questioning whether he was the best ambassador for the Oscars.

While initially brushing off complaints, Hart soon backtracked and apologised for his previous remarks, and withdrew from hosting the ceremony just a few days after he’d first been announced, saying he “sincerely apologise[d]” for his “insensitive words.”

And that wasn’t the end of it. A month later, Hart was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ eponymous talk show, where Ellen (who hosted the Oscars a few years ago) revealed that she’d called the Academy to vouch for Hart, hoping he and they would reconsider letting him host.

“I called them, I said, ‘Kevin’s on, I have no idea if he wants to come back and host, but what are your thoughts?’,” she said.

“And they were like, ‘Oh my God, we want him to host! We feel like that maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong. Maybe we said the wrong thing but we want him to host. Whatever we can do we would be thrilled. And he should host the Oscars.'”

“Leaving here, I promise you, I’m evaluating this conversation,” Hart said.

“This is a conversation I needed to have, I’m glad that I had it here, and I’m glad that it was as authentic and real as I could have hoped that it would be. So let me assess, just to sit in this space and really think, and you and I will talk before anything else.”

In the end, though, this re-assessment came to nothing. Hart won’t be hosting the ceremony this year, and the Academy’s decision not to replace him means that for the first time since 1989 (30 years, fact fans) the Oscars will have no host this year with a star-studded line-up of presenters assembled to fill in the gaps. Meanwhile, another regular feature of the ceremony was beginning to cause some issues as well..


Best Original Song makes headlines

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born (Warner Bros)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born (Warner Bros)

Along with the Best Popular Film category, one of the big changes promised for the Oscars in 2019 was that the length of the ceremony would be cut down, with the Academy pledging that the live broadcast of the awards would run to three hours in 2019 in an attempt to bolster declining viewership.

For guidance, the 2018 Oscars ran to around three hours and 53 minutes, so shaving that sort of time wouldn’t be easy. Still, according to reports Academy bosses had one idea – don’t have live performances for absolutely every nominee in the Best Original Song category, instead picking just one or two (in this case, Shallow from A Star is Born and All the Stars from Black Panther) to show on TV live.

After all, there’s some precedent for this – historically, not every nominee in this category has always performed every year – and it’d definitely cut some time down. But once again, people were unhappy, including Hamilton creator (and former Oscar song nominee) Lin-Manuel Miranda.

It was unfair to relegate three of the five nominees to second-class status, critics of the proposal argued, and might suggest favouritism on the part of the organisers – and according to Variety the nominees agreed, with the trade publication suggesting that all five acts in the category may have presented a united front to demand that either all of them performed, or none of them did (though this is unconfirmed).

Whatever the truth, the Academy’s mooted plans were seemingly scrapped again, and now all five songs are being performed on the night. And it wasn’t the only time-saving measure to be left on the scrapheap…


Four categories are relegated – and then reinstated

Alfonso Cuaron at the 2014 Oscars (Getty)
Alfonso Cuaron at the 2014 Oscars

The (hopefully) final crisis to befall the 2019 Oscars came relatively late, when the Academy revealed that the awards for Best Live Action Short, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling would be presented during commercial breaks of the live broadcast, in another attempt to shave some time off the live show.

They wouldn’t go completely untelevised – rather, the speeches would be played later in the ceremony, in a similar fashion to how the pre-recorded Bafta Film Awards handle certain craft categories – but the decision was roundly criticised on social media, with big-name directors, actors and other moviemakers crying foul.

“Cinematography and Editing are at the very heart of our craft,” last year’s Best Picture and Best Director winner Guillermo del Toro wrote. “They are not inherited from a theatrical tradition or a literary tradition: they are cinema itself.”

“Without cinematographers and film editors, I would be lost, wandering in the cinema wilderness,” added director Spike Lee, nominated this year for BlacKkKlansman in multiple categories – and other actors and nominees also took up the call for a reversal in the Academy’s decision.

At this stage, you probably know where this is going. After another backlash came another backtrack, with the Academy announcing that it in fact WOULD still present the awards live on the air in response to the disquiet from members of the industry.

“All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format,” the Academy said in a statement.

“We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24.”

We can only hope there are no more disasters before then…

The 91st Academy Awards airs from 12.00am on Monday 25th February on Sky Cinema Oscars in the UK (usually called Sky Cinema Greats)

Oscars highlights are on Monday 25th February at 8pm on Sky Cinema Oscars and 9pm on Sky1

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