The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled the Academy Awards to allow films released only on streaming platforms to be eligible for Oscar nominations, as social distancing measures have caused the closure of movie theatres across the world and disrupted to the traditional film selection process.
The Academy’s move is the latest sign of the upheaval caused by the pandemic, which has caused highly anticipated blockbusters to be delayed, high profile film festivals to be cancelled, and theatre closures.
The change in rules will only apply to next year’s Oscars and while the Academy plans to make the 93rd Oscars an acceptation, what with the growing campaigning from companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple have, it might prove tough to revert back. These companies have recently gained industry muscle over the last couple of years and once they have gained traction, they are not likely to give it up easily in a notoriously staunch town.
Before the pandemic, the Academy Awards required a film be shown in a theater in Los Angeles County of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily.
To meet these requirements, Netflixs had to hire out a theatre for Martin Scorsese latest streaming-only film, The Irishman, in order to make it eligible for Oscar nominations.
To make it easier for distributors to meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theatres reopen, the Academy also will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in additional US metropolitan areas including New York, the Bay Area, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta.
A big unknown is how will this impact the Oscars and will we see a much wider selection of films represented? The Academy Awards have been long criticized for their lack of diversity, perhaps adding streaming films to their selection will help quiet this debate.
In addition, festivals that have been impacted by the pandemic are allowed to provide films online through either a transactional pay wall or password-protected entry, which will not affect the films’ eligibility for future Oscar qualification.
This component of the rule change is likely to be embraced in particular by distributors of arthouse and foreign-language films. Festival films will be expected to comply with all other eligibility requirements for the 93rd Academy Awards.
A question many of the critics will be asking is will this allow arthouse and foreign-language films to have a bigger stage? Unfortunately, it will probably be unlikely as the Hollywood studio will still have control over the system but it could be seen as a small crack in the armour and a pathway leading to a more equitable solution somewhere down the line.
The 93rd Oscars are still scheduled to take place on February 28th and will be broadcast on ABC.
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