The Academy creates several PR nightmares in attempt to improve Oscars

The Academy’s attempts to shorten and enhance the Academy Awards ceremony were met with public backlash and constant backpedaling.

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is facing pressure to enhance the Academy Awards ceremony after several years of declining ratings. According to a report from media measurement service Nielsen, 2018’s Oscars hit just 26.5 million viewers. This is a 20 percent drop from 2017, and the ceremony’s lowest numbers in its history. This declining viewership led the academy to make a series of controversial decisions about the ceremony, many of which were reversed after public outcry.

First in a series of changes was the introducing of a new category, Best Popular Film, in August 2018. The category was speculated to celebrate blockbusters and movies that performed well at the box office, regardless of cinematic merit. Public backlash was so strong that the concept was rescinded before it could be explained in further detail. Academy President John Bailey spoke on the category at a November film festival in Poland, however, implying there was still hope for the category.

“[It] seemed like a good idea, the board approved it, announced it, but we got a lot of pushback,” Bailey said at the festival’s discussion panel. “So the board reconsidered and tabled it – which is not to say that the idea is dead. Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.”

The next controversy surrounded the host for the evening. Originally, Kevin Hart was selected to host the Academy Awards. In December, some homophobic tweets from Hart resurfaced, sparking public outrage. Hart refused to apologize for these tweets, citing personal growth, and pulled out of the gig.

For the first time since the 61st Academy Awards in 1989, the Oscars will not have a host for the ceremony. Several entertainment journalists and celebrities find the Oscars hosting gig to be a thankless job, both in terms of payment and destruction to public image. Actor and former host Seth MacFarlane spoke to Entertainment Weekly on the subject, citing the spotlight to be too much to take on.

“When you’re doing something that’s that much in the spotlight, with that much focus on it, that much intensity, you’re going to have a lot of opinions from a lot of people,” MacFarlane said. “It’s not an easy job, and I’m not surprised that they have a tough time finding takers.”

Brent Lang, executive editor of film & media for Variety, spoke on the academy’s decision to rely on A-list talent as presenters, doubting its effectiveness.

“I don’t think people are sitting at home saying to themselves, ‘I wasn’t going to watch the Oscars, but Daniel Craig is gonna present the sound mixing award, so I’m gonna carve out some time on Sunday night,’” Lang said in a Variety YouTube video. “Movie stardom isn’t what it used to be. We see these people all the time. If you’re on TMZ or anything you’re constantly seen buying groceries. This isn’t our only chance to get a gander at Warren Beatty.”

The academy hoped to improve ratings by shortening the broadcast. To do so, it considered removing several facets of the ceremony, starting with shortening the performances of the nominees for Best Original Song. Traditionally, all nominees have a chance to perform their nominated piece. According to a Variety report, the academy considered having only the two songs that were the biggest chart-toppers perform: Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.” Public backlash, of course, led the academy to rescind its consideration and allow all five artists to perform.

“If you want to teach a course on how not to do PR, I would suggest you look no further than the academy,” Lang said about the song controversy. “This group has made just one foul-up after the next. How could they not have understood that this would be incredibly insulting to people to have this big moment taken away?”

In yet another attempt to shorten the broadcast, the academy had considered airing some of the evening’s awards during commercial breaks. These awards included Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Cinematography and Live Action Short Film. Best Director nominee Spike Lee shared his thoughts on this change to Al Roker on NBC’s “Today” show, speaking of the importance of these team members in creating a quality film.

“As a director, without my cinematographer, without my editor, without hair and makeup, there is no movie,” Lee told “Today.” “And the academy’s marginalized them.”

Following more backlash from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and 2018 Best Director winner Guillermo del Toro, The Academy Officers of the Board of Governors released a statement on its website about the return of those awards to the broadcasted ceremony.

“The Academy has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards - Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling,” the statement read. “All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format.”

The constant PR mistakes that occurred on the road to the Oscars could be indicative of how smoothly the evening will run. Viewers can expect efforts will still be made to keep the broadcast under three hours, including shortened acceptance speeches.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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