It seemed obvious that the Oscars this year (much like every other award show) was going to feel a little bit weird. The show, which is normally scheduled for late February but had been postponed due to the pandemic, was expected to be a toned-down version of the normal festivities. On top of the normal COVID changes to the night, such as a much smaller crowd and a more intimate location, the show was being produced this year by director Steven Soderbergh, who had promised to shake up the traditional Oscar format. And while some of his innovations and risks may have worked, his biggest risk ultimately backfired, and will likely go down in Oscar history— right next to the ‘Moonlight’ ‘La La Land’ fiasco of 2017.
In a break from tradition, the 93rd Academy Award Show decided to rearrange the last couple of awards for the night. Rather than announcing the best lead actor awards followed by best picture, the producers chose instead to announce best picture first— a bizarre change that left many viewers confused.
After ‘Nomadland’ secured the Oscar for best picture, the show cut to a commercial break. Upon its return, the best actress category was announced, followed by the award for best actor. Viewers watched as actor Joaquin Phoenix walked on stage— notably wearing the same tuxedo that he wore last year. Phoenix seemed almost visibly uncomfortable while he announced the nominees, and during his brief speech he appeared to spend more time critiquing the Academy than actually honoring them. “I’m supposed to talk about acting and specifically the transformative moment when an actor discovers the character and fully embodies it.” He stated, looking as though he was going off script. “But I don’t really know anything about that. I don’t think that I’ve ever had that experience.”
Instead of spending time introducing the nominees as is customary, Joaquin rushed through the list before hastily announcing the winner: Anthony Hopkins. This came as a surprise to both audience members and (presumably) producers alike, seeing as Chadwick Boseman, the late ‘Black Panther’ actor, was the favorite to win that night. To make matters worse, Anthony Hopkins wasn’t even in attendance. And in his absence, Joaquin Phoenix was forced to awkwardly accept the award on his behalf before ending the show— an abrupt and jarring finish to the night.
In the absence of an acceptance speech, the show came to a severely anti-climatic end— a far cry from the emotional high which producers were hoping for. And as the broadcast ended it became clear that the Academy was banking on a Boseman win, in ways which began to make some viewers uncomfortable.
After the ceremony it was announced that a Chadwick Boseman NFT (Non-Fungible Token) was included in gift bags for Oscar nominees, and was to be auctioned off online with a price set at $1.2 million. The NFT depicted a 3-D golden sculpture of Boseman’s head, set in the style of an Academy Award. Seeing as the late-actor didn’t end up actually winning an award that night, the move felt especially exploitative. And although the artist behind the work announced that 50% of the proceeds would be donated to the Colon Cancer foundation, many were skeptical about where the rest of the money was going.
As the lights dimmed many viewers couldn’t help but notice other odd decisions which the Academy made this year, such as having Joaquin Phoenix walk out to soul music to announce the best actor category. While even with a Boseman win this ending would have likely caused confusion, in its absence, it felt highly exploitative and tacky. It felt as though the Academy was taking advantage of the actor’s death, using his image to promote viewership and manipulating it to end their ceremony on an emotional high. For many, it felt as though the ceremony was hijacking his family’s pain in the name of ratings, and the move felt less honorary and far more tactical and calculating. Ultimately though, the real losers in this unfortunate story are not the producers, the viewers, or even the Academy— but the two talented actors who the Academy failed to honor.