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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Oscars 2021: Time to Watch Yet Another Covid-Era Awards Show

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Four hundred and 39 days ago, the 92nd Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. It was a huge night—Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite won Best Picture, becoming the first foreign-language film to do so in the academy’s history. It was also one of the last awards shows to happen pre-pandemic, when people could still get together for an Oscars watch party. (I didn’t see one of the folks I watched with until two weeks ago, after we got our first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.) Now, after having its date pushed back two months, this year’s Oscars might be the last in a long line of awkward industry celebrations trying to go on when events can’t be contained.


It seems, though, that the academy is doing its best to work with the complex and unwieldy circumstances of this awards season. For one thing, the in-person event will be broadcast from Union Station, the transit hub in downtown Los Angeles. Every year since 2002 the Oscars have taken place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, and while this year’s event will also take place in part at the Dolby, the venue will share the stage with the train station. Meanwhile, instead of an orchestra playing intro and outro music, Questlove will be DJ-ing the event, using original music he recorded with the Roots.

Beyond that, very little is known about what the actual Oscars will look like. There won’t be a host—there hasn’t been one for a couple years now. But who will present, and exactly how those things will go is a mystery. There’s some indication as to why Union Station was chosen as a venue—it’s got a long history as a movie set, and, according to a letter from Oscars producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Jesse Collins to nominees, it’s a place where they can hold a safe “intimate, in-person event” that will be operated like “an active movie set, with specially designated testing cadences to ensure up-to-the-minute results, including an on-site Covid safety team.” Originally the producers nixed the idea of allowing attendees to Zoom in to the event, but they have since recanted, setting up a few “hubs” for remote attendees. Beyond that, the look and flow of Sunday’s telecast is anyone’s guess.

But you know what? Good. The Zoom awards shows were a fine—and ultimately necessary—stopgap measure earlier in the pandemic. (Who could forget Zendaya throwing her arms up in glee in her Zoom window when she won the Emmy for best lead actress in a drama for Euphoria? No one, that’s who.) Recently a lot of shows have found new, workable formats that are Covid-safe and more fun than wondering why people who presumably make huge salaries have unstable internet connections. The Grammys, for example, held a lively show in and around LA’s Staples Center that was hosted by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah and featured performances from Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, Taylor Swift, and Harry Styles. (It also had the added bonus of Beyoncé just, like, being there and picking up trophies.)

After this past year, we'll take what we can get. Of all the industries that have mainstream awards shows—music, TV, film, etc.—Hollywood was hit hardest by the pandemic, with most of this year’s nominees having been released on some kind of streaming service rather than getting a national theater rollout. It’s been a long 439 days. No one’s movie-watching experience was the same in 2020 as it was in years prior; there’s no reason to expect their movie-celebrating one should be either. And yet, celebration seems in order. Movies got a lot of people through the last year—perhaps it’s time we help movies get through this one.

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