×

Oscar is a perfect metaphor for COVID. Or maybe COVID is a metaphor for Oscars. Either way, both center on a sense of uncertainty, with people loudly advocating a “return to normal.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced Feb. 22 that eight categories will not be presented live on the air. It’s part of a plan to make Oscar’s TV ratings soar again. Meanwhile, many movie fans are waiting for a best picture lineup that’s full of B.O. winners, and waiting for streamers to take a back seat to the “purity” of big screen movies.

None of this will happen. And that’s OK. Change is inevitable and the only danger is in refusing to acknowledge that.

The announcement about the eight (editing, hair/makeup, music score, song, sound, and the three short-film races) underline the fact that changes are underway. Nominations for Japan’s “Drive My Car” and the absence of Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” reinforce that fact.

Oscar has continually evolved. There were four distinct periods:

1. The VIP rites: The public was tantalized by newsreel glimpses and radio excerpts of Hollywood’s gods and goddesses at the exalted, private ceremony.

2. The TV era: Starting in 1953, movie fans could watch the entire event at home. It was a once-a-year moviepalooza for several decades, before talkshows and other awards shows ate into Oscar’s unique role of presenting stars being themselves.

3. The years of Harvey (no need for the full name): He didn’t invent awards campaigns, but talked about about them so much that the media began to let campaigns and red-carpet/fashion overshadow the nominees.

4. The digital age. Oscar isn’t part of the DNA of young people in the way of past generations, who were frequent moviegoers and who had only three TV networks. The “envelope please!” format seemed quaint to young people, who began using social media during the once-sacred ceremony and watching next-day speeches on YouTube.

Now, we’re in the early stages of Phase 5, the “Parasite” era. The strong showing for Sideshow/Janus’s “Drive My Car” has been attributed to AMPAS’ growing overseas membership. That’s a factor, but shortchanges U.S. voters. Americans have traditionally been subtitle-phobic, but COVID and streaming have accelerated the openness to “foreign” works, whether it’s the Korean “Squid Game,” French sitcom “Call My Agent!,” Scandi mysteries or, musically, K-pop groups such as BTS.

The latter is another sign of Asia’s growing influence.

More than two thousand years ago, Athens and Cairo were the cradles of Western civilization, then things moved to the Roman Empire, then Paris, then London. In the 20th century, New York, then California, were the centers of the world. In other words, it’s been a gradual westward movement. Now Asia is influencing our businesses, our clothes, food — and entertainment.

Some solutions going forward:
• Studios and voters can get rid of old images of what’s “Oscar fodder”; the new “Spider-Man” deserved a best pic nomination not because it might boost TV ratings, but because it’s a brilliantly-made film that represents the best of Hollywood;
• ABC and AMPAS can continue contract talks that focus less on TV eyeballs and incorporate more social media as a gauge of success. But cosmetic changes like a public-voted award and fewer on-air categories won’t make a substantial difference;
• Pundits can make TV ratings and box-office performance a minor talking point, rather than the only ways to, respectively, measure the show and the contenders;
• AMPAS and ABC should remember the show is for millions of people around the globe, not just the audience at the Dolby.

Fans protest that Oscars are the movie industry’s big night, but it’s all been dictated by television needs since 1953: The calendar scheduling, the timing, the lineup of presenters and host.

Announcing noms this year were Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan — both talented, but both known more for TV work than movies. Oscar hosts Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes are not movie stars who guarantee big B.O. So stop pretending that streamers and home-viewing violate the sanctity of Oscars.

AMPAS and ABC on Feb. 22 confirmed that the Oscar world is different than it was many decades ago.

Fearful of changes? They’ve already happened.