Rumors are flying regarding possible changes in how nominees may be accepting their Oscars, if they must appear in person, and whether the show will look more like the Grammys which rotated in sets of different nominees for their categories rather than having all nominees seated for the entire show. Trades are falling over each other with “exclusive” teases of possible moves on the part of the Oscar show producers, as well as a meeting tomorrow which has informed nominees of looming decisions that may directly affect their attendance. Deadline can definitely confirm that the latter is happening, even as the Academy has consistently said from day one of the pandemic (when they moved the show back two months to its latest date ever of April 25, in hopes of avoiding the predicament they are now in) that the situation is “fluid.”
Adding to these woes today, CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned of her sense of “impending doom” and said she “is scared” of a fourth surge in the wake of new breakouts of positive Covid tests around the U.S. President Joe Biden is asking states to please reinstate mandatory mask wearing requirements as variants and the early loosening of restrictions are causing new waves of hotspots, something already forcing new lockdowns in many European cities and other points in the world where an unusually large portion of this year’s Academy Awards nominees are currently situated.
All of this is — or should be — causing concern for the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards taking place one month from now, and which, as I reported both last Wednesday and in my Notes on the Season column on Friday, has some nominees in various locales around the globe nervous and confused about their participation in the show.
On March 18, producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins issued a letter to all nominees informing them there would be no Zoom option, as is the case for virtually every other awards show in this pandemic-affected season. Instead, the letter indicated the only way a nominee would be able to accept (on the show, at least) would be to appear in person at Union Station, the new spacious venue AMPAS is using to insure social distancing (the Dolby Theatre will be used for other show elements) — a space they promise will follow strict Covid protocols, much like the extreme measures now taken on film and TV shoots.
I have been following all this by actually talking to the nominees themselves. Today in a Zoom chat with Jasmila Žbanić, Oscar-nominated director of the extraordinary Bosnia and Herzegovina International Feature Film contender Quo Vadis, Aida?, she expressed excitement over actually attending the Oscars in person, just as the producers hope will happen, so it doesn’t look like another Zoom affair. She also openly revealed she and her husband learned on Oscar nomination day, March 15, that they had tested positive for Covid-19, but now, after two weeks in quarantine, she is fortunately at the end of that experience and looking and feeling great, even though it certainly made for a mixed message on the same day when she heard she had been nominated for an Academy Award for the first time.
“We are hoping to arrive because we have to be quarantined for 10 days so it means we have to start our journey in two weeks,” she said during a Zoom from Sarajevo of the requirement of all international travelers in entering the U.S. “I did get a notice that there is [an Academy] meeting tomorrow. On the one hand it is a big effort [to travel to L.A.] but on the other hand ‘how can I miss this fun?’ “
Two other nominees — in major categories — with whom I spoke over the weekend were also commiserating over just what the experience of attending the Oscars will be like. One, nominated in the acting categories, asked if there would be a mask requirement at the Oscars, but was told there are still meetings with the Academy and publicists to determine those kinds of details. “I don’t know about traveling all that way only to have your face half covered during the Oscars,” this nominee said while also musing if the Oscars, full of people coming in from around the world, might turn out to be a “super spreader event,” and also questioning whether every nominee will be required to be vaccinated (at least one of the two nominees to whom I am referring confirmed they have not yet received the vaccine).
“Didn’t Soderbergh actually make the movie Contagion?” one of them quipped, hoping the show was in expert hands because of that (Sher was also a producer on that prophetic 2011 fictional film about a worldwide pandemic that started in China).
You can probably tell that with all of these kinds of conversations happening among the group that makes up the core audience allowed to attend this year’s Oscar ceremony that giving them, and all of us, clarification as soon as possible is paramount for the Academy and its broadcast partner ABC. That is something that sounds like they are both taking very seriously.