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Will the Oscars Be Delayed? And Other Burning Questions for the 2021 Academy Awards

Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder
Andrew H Walker/Shutterstock

It hasn’t been the greatest year for moviegoing. Most theaters have been shuttered since March, and major festivals such as Tribeca and Cannes have been canceled, postponed or reimagined as virtual events. In the coronavirus era, it’s unclear if the Oscars can move forward as planned, at least without making some massive changes to the way the awards are campaigned for and handed out. Here are five burning questions facing the next edition of the Academy Awards.

What if the Oscars are delayed?

As Variety first reported, the Academy is considering pushing back the Oscar ceremony from its original airdate of Feb. 28. If that happens, it could scramble the awards-season calendar. Should the Oscars feel the need to move deeper into 2021 in the hope of finding a post-pandemic — or post-vaccine — perch, that could put pressure on other awards shows, such as the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, to find new dates.

That also raises issues of eligibility. Given that four months of the year were essentially a wash because theaters were closed — limiting contenders to Netflix films and a smattering of on-demand titles — will the Oscars dispense with the idea of a calendar year qualification? Will the Academy allow films that open in January or even February to vie for awards? It’s doubtful, but then again, we’re living through unprecedented times.

How will campaigns change?

Oscar season has been compared to the Iowa Caucus for its manic series of glad-handing events. There’s a seemingly endless parade of meet-and-greets, grip-and-grins, dinners and screenings, all with a goal of putting contenders in front of as many voters as possible. Obviously, all those selfies are a little dangerous when COVID-19 is swirling around, which likely will require a dramatic overhaul to the way that many of these campaigns are designed and managed. It’s unclear how potential nominees will be able to charm voters from a social distance, or if they’ll even be game to do the kind of relentless traveling that characterizes most Oscar pushes.

It’s also possible that studios, having just endured several months without selling a single ticket to their movies, will be more conservative in their spending. They may not have the resources available to part with the millions of dollars they usually shell out for pricey consultants, first-class accommodations, glossy ads and the other trappings of a spare-no-expense awards season. They may be also tighter with their wallets if the economy doesn’t start regaining its footing in the coming months.

Will the show go virtual?

It’s certainly possible. From college graduations to the Democratic National Convention, major events are being conducted online. There are lots of reasons why Hollywood A-listers are skittish about the prospect of sitting cheek-to-jowl with their fellow stars and power brokers in the Dolby Theatre for a three-hour show. It certainly has the potential to turn into one of those super-spreader events. That means that a Zoom version of the Oscars might be an attractive option. It’s already a route being explored for the Tony Awards, if and when Broadway’s big night happens. The Academy might want to start looking at backdrop options.

Will Netflix be the big winner?

The streaming giant has made no secret of its burning desire to win a best picture statue, spending lavishly on campaigns for “Roma” and “The Irishman” without managing to snag the top prize. But 2020 could be the year that changes. For one thing, a lack of theaters doesn’t put a dent in Netflix’s plans; unlike companies such as Warner Bros. or Sony, the streamer makes its money from subscriptions, not box office. It only schedules theatrical releases to engender good will with its filmmakers. Plus, Netflix has assembled a formidable list of contenders, including David Fincher’s “Mank,” Ramin Bahrani’s “White Tiger,” Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and George C. Wolfe’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” It just released Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” earning strong reviews and Oscar buzz for Delroy Lindo’s performance as a battle-scarred vet.

Will there even be an Oscars?

It’s worth asking. If movie theaters are slow to reopen or if there’s a second wave of the coronavirus and things shut down again, is it really worth having an Oscars for the handful of movies that are truly awards-worthy? It’s possible that the Academy will instead opt to combine 2020’s contenders with those from 2021. When cinemas began closing down, people on Twitter joked that Jim Carrey might win an Oscar for his work as Dr. Robotnik in “Sonic the Hedgehog,” one of the few films to get released so far this year. If things don’t turn around soon, Carrey and Lindo might be fighting it out for all the marbles.