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Oscars courts controversy as it bids to cut running time and claw back viewers

The 91st Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on February 24 (Ian West/PA)
The 91st Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on February 24 (Ian West/PA)

Hollywood’s biggest night has been plagued by controversy this year.

It will be the first time in 30 years the Oscars ceremony has gone ahead without a host, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s pick Kevin Hart stepped down following a row over homophobic tweets.

Instead star presenters will be relied upon to keep the proceedings moving along, including Daniel Craig, Jennifer Lopez and Chadwick Boseman.

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig is one of the presenters at the ceremony (Matt Crossick/PA)

But the drama surrounding Hart is just one of a string of reversals and rows that have dogged the 91st ceremony, as the Academy makes the bid to cut the ceremony down to three hours from almost four in 2018 and claw back declining viewing figures by appealing to a younger audience.

Ratings for last year’s telecast fell to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers in the US, almost 20% down from the previous year.

In August 2018 it was confirmed that a new category was being designed around achievement in popular film, which swiftly drew criticism from industry experts and actors, including Rob Lowe.

The West Wing star said: “The film business passed away today with the announcement of the ‘popular’ film Oscar.

“It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration.”

Just weeks later it was announced that the introduction of the new category was being “postponed”.

More recently the Academy sparked ire from top filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and nominee Spike Lee after it announced plans to present four awards during advert breaks, also in an effort to trim the running time.

Oscars Nominee Champagne Tea Reception – London
Spike Lee (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The decision to hand out the Oscars for live-action shorts, make-up and hairstyling, cinematography and editing during breaks in the telecast, a time when members of the audience in the Dolby Theatre habitually makes trips to the bar or the toilet, sparked an outcry and accusations that the Academy was disrespecting workers in those disciplines.

The Academy responded by saying the winners’ speeches would be shown later in the broadcast, adding that no award category would be “presented in a manner that depicts the achievements of its nominees and winners as less than any others”.

This did not abate the furore and eventually it announced it was reversing course and that all 24 categories would be presented during the live broadcast.

There was also an outcry after it was reported that only two out of the five nominees for best original song would be performed.

It had been claimed that only Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar would be given slots to perform their nominated songs Shallow from A Star Is Born and All The Stars from Black Panther.

That decision was widely criticised, notably by Hamilton creator and Mary Poppins Returns star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Academy apparently quickly changed course and it has since been confirmed that all five nominated songs will be performed, including The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns, I’ll Fight from RBG and When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings from The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs.

The 91st Academy Awards will be handed out at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 24.

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