Oscars 2021 to Extend Eligibility Window, Delay Show to April

     June 15, 2020

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[Update: After a vote this morning, the Academy has pushed back the 2021 Oscars ceremony to April 25, 2021 and has moved the cutoff for eligibility from December 31, 2020 to February 28, 2021.]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is set to vote today on some major issues related to the 2021 Oscars, chief among them extending the eligibility window beyond December 31, 2020. Yes indeed, THR reports that the board of governors of the Academy are convening today and, after voting, are likely to extend the eligibility window beyond December of this year and delay the Oscar ceremony by up to eight weeks. The culprit is, of course, COVID-19—with uncertainty abounding about some of this year’s most anticipated films, the Oscars are aiming to give studios a bit of a cushion so that if the reopening of movie theaters back to a “normal” standard takes until early 2021 to get going, films delayed as a result can still be eligible for next year’s Oscars. This comes after the Academy previously decreed that they would waive the traditional “you have to release your movie in a theater to be eligible” rule during the shutdown for an undefined yet finite period of time.

This is one of many decisions the board of governors will make as we head towards the sure-to-be-unique Oscars ceremony, as they will also eventually have to determine whether the show can go on live as normal, or if a socially distanced virtual ceremony will take its place. A determination on the format is unlikely to be made at today’s meeting, as that doesn’t have to be decided until down the road and we don’t even know what September will look like, let alone next spring.

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Image via Netflix

But ABC needs a decision on when the 2021 Oscars will air, hence today’s meeting. The show is currently scheduled for February 28, 2021—which was originally a refreshing return to a more brief Oscar season—but that’s highly unlikely to stick. Instead, we could see the Oscars held as late as April, with films released in January and February still eligible for the ceremony.

But do we really need to extend the eligibility window? It’s true, 2020 has been a unique year at the movies. New releases ceased hitting the big screen in March, and the Summer Movie Season has been all but cancelled. Films like Jungle Cruise, In the Heights, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife were scheduled to be released this summer and moved all the way to 2021, and movies like Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984 have been pushed back to this fall.

In their stead, however, we’ve seen the release of some fascinating and refreshingly lower-key movies going straight to Premium VOD and just this past weekend, Spike Lee’s sprawling Da 5 Bloods premiered on Netflix and immediately kickstarted the Oscar campaign for Delroy Lindo. With blockbusters not crowding up the marketplace, audiences have been forced to go outside the realm of “the norm” for their summer entertainment, finding tremendous films like The Vast of Night and Emma. in their stead. How great would it be if we had an Oscars ceremony unlike any other—one in which the conversation wasn’t dominated by the same-old same-old, but really and truly shook things up?

Indeed, even major Oscar contenders set for release this fall are in jeopardy, as some hadn’t yet finished shooting before the COVID-19 shutdown and some have struggled to continue post-production under quarantine conditions. But again, that means more room for smaller scale films like Shirley or heck, even The Invisible Man. Year after year, the Oscars conversation is dominated by films released between September and December. This year provides an opportunity to organically shake things up, so I would much prefer the Academy seize the moment rather than change the rules so the same kinds of films we see dominate the conversation every year now have an extra two or three months to be completed and still make an extended eligibility window.

Alas, it doesn’t appear that will be the case.  What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

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