On February 11th, the Academy announced that it would be presenting four Oscars —cinematography, film editing, live action short, and makeup and hairstyling — during commercial breaks of the upcoming 91st Academy Awards ceremony. Now, a collection of influential directors, cinematographers, and other filmmakers have released a scathing open letter criticizing the Academy’s decision.
The letter boasts the signatures of over 90 Hollywood creators, many of whom have earned Oscar nods or wins in the past. Famous directors on the list include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, and Ang Lee. Cinematographers, such as Roger Deakins, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, and Robert Richardson, and editors, including Tom Cross, William Goldenberg, and Mary Jo Markey, have also backed the letter, in addition to high-profile figures in production design, sound, and VFX. Plus, more filmmakers are expected to be added in the coming days upon request.
In the message, the filmmakers declare the screening change “nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.” They also note that it’s “not too late to have this decision reversed” — though the awards ceremony scheduled for February 24th is only 11 days out — and call out the program’s producers, Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, and Academy president, John Bailey, by name.
The letter addresses the Academy’s departure from its original goal to “recognize and uphold excellence in the cinematic arts, inspire imagination and help connect the world through the universal medium of motion pictures.” In cutting the four categories, the signees believe that the show has “drifted from this mission” by “relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status,” ultimately “sacrificing the integrity of the Academy’s original mission.”
To close out the rebuke, co-signer, actor, and director Seth Rogen issues the final word. He is quoted as saying, “What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.” Indeed, Seth.
In response, the Academy issued a statement of its own defending the decision, signed by president Bailey; vice presidents Lois Burwell, Sid Ganis, Larry Karaszewki, and Nancy Utley; treasurer Jim Gianopulos; and secretary David Rubin. The officers blame “inaccurate reporting and social media posts” for “a chain of misinformation that has understandably upset many Academy members.” They assure “that no award category at the 91st Oscars ceremony will be presented in a manner that depicts the achievements of its nominees and winners as less than any others.” The response fails to address the original open letter’s key issue that four categories will not be shown during the program’s initial television airing.
The complaints in the filmmakers’ open letter only add to the backlash surrounding the Oscars. In addition to the producers’ controversial tactics to trim the show’s notoriously long runtime, the 91st Academy Awards will mark the first host-less show in over 30 years. The Academy previously tapped Kevin Hart as a host, before cutting him from programming and begrudgingly deciding to move forward sans host.
You can watch the train wreck for yourself on February 24th on ABC. Read the original open letter in full below.
“An Open Letter to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Producers of the 91st Annual Academy Awards Broadcast:
On Monday, February 11, 2019, John Bailey, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, announced that this year’s Oscar presentations for Best Cinematography — along with Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling — will not be broadcast live, but rather presented during a commercial break. This decision was made to reduce the length of the show from four hours to three. The vocal response from our peers and the immediate backlash from industry leaders over the Academy’s decision makes it clear that it’s not too late to have this decision reversed.
The Academy was founded in 1927 to recognize and uphold excellence in the cinematic arts, inspire imagination and help connect the world through the universal medium of motion pictures.
Unfortunately, we have drifted from this mission in our pursuit of presenting entertainment rather than in presenting a celebration of our art form and the people behind it.
Relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status in this 91st Academy Awards ceremony is nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.
The show’s director, Glenn Weiss, has stated that he will determine what “emotionally resonant” moments from the four winners’ speeches will be selected to air later in the broadcast. The show will cut any additional comment from presenters, as well as any recitation of the nominees as they see fit.
We consider this abbreviation and potential censorship to run contrary to the spirit of the Academy’s mission.
Since its inception, the Academy Awards telecast has been altered over time to keep the format fresh, but never by sacrificing the integrity of the Academy’s original mission.
When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form.
To quote our colleague Seth Rogen, “What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.”
Anthony Dod Mantle
Newton Thomas Sigel
Hoyte van Hoytema
Kees van Oostrum
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alan Edward Bell
Sophie De Rakoff
Mary Jo Markey
Tatiana S. Riegel
Anna B. Sheppard
Terilyn A. Shropshire