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Scorsese, Tarantino, and Spike Lee blast Oscars in scathing open letter

Filmmakers speak out against the Academy's decision to present four awards during commercial breaks

The Oscars Academy Awards 91st 2019 open letter controversy Martin Scorsese Quentin Tarantino Spike Lee Spike Jonze
The Oscars
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    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.

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    (Read: Oscars 2019 Predictions: Who Will Win, Who Should Win)

    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.

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    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.”

    Signed,

    Cinematographers

    Dion Beebe
    Bill Bennett
    Roger Deakins
    Peter Deming
    Caleb Deschanel
    Robert Elswit
    Mauro Fiore
    Greig Fraser
    Janusz Kaminski
    Ellen Kuras
    Ed Lachman
    Robert Legato
    Emmanuel Lubezki
    Anthony Dod Mantle
    Seamus McGarvey
    Chris Menges
    Dan Mindel
    Reed Morano
    Rachel Morrison
    Guillermo Navarro
    Phedon Papamichael
    Wally Pfister
    Rodrigo Prieto
    Robert Primes
    Robert Richardson
    Linus Sandgren
    John Seale
    Newton Thomas Sigel
    Vittorio Storaro
    John Toll
    Hoyte van Hoytema
    Kees van Oostrum
    Roy Wagner

    Directors

    Damien Chazelle
    Cary Joji Fukunaga
    Spike Jonze
    Ang Lee
    Spike Lee
    Dee Rees
    Seth Rogen
    Martin Scorsese
    Quentin Tarantino

    Filmmakers

    Kym Barrett
    Judy Becker
    Alan Edward Bell
    Erin Benach
    Avril Beukes
    Consolata Boyle
    Maryann Brandon
    Alexandra Byrne
    Milena Canonero
    Chris Corbould
    Hank Corwin
    Tom Cross
    Nathan Crowley
    Sophie De Rakoff
    Chris Dickens
    Bob Ducsay
    Lou Eyrich
    Dante Ferretti
    Paul Franklin
    Dana Glauberman
    William Goldenberg
    Affonso Goncalves
    Adam Gough
    Jon Gregory
    Dorian Harris
    Joanna Johnston
    Paul Lambert
    Mary Jo Markey
    Joi McMillon
    Ellen Mirojnick
    Stephen Mirrione
    Bob Murawski
    John Ottman
    Sandy Powell
    Fred Raskin
    Tatiana S. Riegel
    Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
    Mayes Rubeo
    Nat Sanders
    J.D. Schwalm
    Anna B. Sheppard
    Terilyn A. Shropshire
    Joan Sobel
    Michael Tronick
    Mark Ulano
    Martin Walsh
    David Wasco
    Billy Weber
    Julie Weiss
    Michael Wilkinson
    Hughes Winborne
    Janty Yates”

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