A Hybrid Academy Awards Ceremony Will Be a Disaster for Genre Film

A Hybrid Academy Awards Ceremony Will Be a Disaster for Genre Film
Photo: Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images

The Oscar broadcast has cut eight awards presentations from its live line-up — including craft categories like Production Design, Film Editing, and Sound that have often been where science fiction and fantasy films have found their most success.

This news comes from The Hollywood Reporter, which quotes Academy president David Rubin as saying the move is meant “to increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant.” The eight categories that won’t make the broadcast are: Documentary (Short Subject), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Short Film (Animated), Short Film (Live Action), and Sound. (Rubin’s statement, which notes the ceremony will begin an hour earlier than the televised show so that these awards can be given out ahead of time, also includes the assurance that “all the nominees in ALL awards categories will be identified on air and ALL winners’ acceptance speeches will be featured on the live broadcast.”)

Sound was previously split into two categories, Mixing and Editing, but the categories were combined after the 2020 awards — presumably since most Oscar voters don’t know the difference between them, and have just kind of gestured wildly at whatever flashy war/superhero/fantasy film does big booms good. Which leads to the larger point: six of the eight categories are craft awards, which have for years been where genre film has found the most success during this and many other international awards shows.

Take, for example, the 2015 Academy Awards. The Best Picture winner that year was Spotlight, a critic’s darling that received widespread acclaim and six Academy nominations, but only won two awards. Also on the Best Picture slate that year was Mad Max: Fury Road, which received nine nominations across the board. While George Miller’s latest Mad Max instalment didn’t get the top prize, it came away with six Oscars: Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing–all craft awards. If the 2015 Oscar broadcast had cut the categories that Mad Max won, the film’s creators would only be able to accept two awards live… the same amount as Spotlight, a film that means very little to genre fans and rarely comes up in the public cultural discourse today.

The Fury Road example might be extreme, but this year Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is up for 10 awards, and half of those will go by the pre-recorded wayside if the current decision still stands in a month. Historically, science fiction, fantasy, and horror films have been largely shut out of the most popular awards–Best Feature, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Guillermo Del Toro’s Best Picture-winning The Shape of Water broke a nearly 15-year snub in 2017, after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won in 2003 — itself the first fantasy film to ever win an Oscar. Science fiction remains an even more bleak category for Best Picture hopefuls; Star Wars: A New Hope lost in 1977, and 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t even nominated.

Besides Dune, genre films like Don’t Look Up (nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing), Encanto (Original Score), Robin Robin (Animated Short), No Time to Die (Sound), Cruella (Makeup and Hairstyling), and Nightmare Alley (Production Design) will likely go unrecognised if the 94th Academy Awards show sticks with its decision to focus on categories where genre film has traditionally been ignored. By pre-recording these award categories the Academy is signalling that these awards are less prestigious, important, or even engaging, which is an insult considering that these awards celebrate the craft of filmmaking itself and the details that go into the production behind the scenes and behind the camera.

By standing by the choice to eliminate the live broadcast of the categories where genre film excels, the Academy threatens to alienate the filmgoers who love films year-round, not just at awards season. (That Twitter award isn’t going to help, either.) There is still time for the Academy to reverse this decision. In 2018, the Academy announced that several statuettes would be awarded off-air, but quickly recalled the decision due to massive industry backlash — and the Hollywood Reporter says that the current move is already “causing tension within the leadership of the Academy.”

As soon as this news dropped, film Twitter came to the defence of these categories, making #PresentAll23 trend. Daily Dot columnist Gavia Baker-Whitlaw was quick to remind people that Oscar fans actually want to see the whole show, unedited, uncut, and live. Besides the fact that people who watch the Oscars religiously are interested in the entire show as a piece of performance, genre film fans will be left out in the cold as their faves are dismissed because of a program that is pre-recorded and then shortened, potentially at the expense of genre filmmakers.

It feels a little wild to have to come to the defence of genre films, as if they don’t make the most money, inspire the most virulent fandoms, consistently push filmmaking forward on a craft level, and create universality through metaphor, but here we are. Science fiction and fantasy films are good films, at times even great. While Hollywood might not be ready to give Villeneuve top honours, Dune deserves to take its every second in the spotlight just as much as The Power of the Dog, the only film on the docket that received more nominations (12) than the Frank Herbert adaptation. Eliminating those eight categories from the live broadcast will vastly under-represent the well-deserved recognition that science fiction and fantasy films receive at the Oscars, and will disappoint all film fans.

The Oscars will air March 27 on ABC.