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Awards Season in the Time of the Pandemic

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Written by Charissa Roberson

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down film production for months and large gatherings under careful restrictions, the upcoming awards season will look significantly different than usual.

Normally, at this time of year, numerous new films are being released just in time for the holidays and Oscar-buzz is already starting to gather volume. In 2020, however, many movie theaters are still closed, and many films have had their release dates postponed. Additionally, large gatherings (like award ceremonies) are still not advised. What does this mean for awards season—and especially for the Oscars, one of cinema’s biggest annual events?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has pushed its 2021 ceremony all the way to April 25, back from its usual date in late February (The Wrap). Other ceremonies have followed suit, resulting in what Steve Pond calls “the most delayed and drawn-out season ever” (The Wrap). Considerations also have to be taken regarding what these ceremonies will look like. Will the Academy Awards be conducted to a select few audience members spaced out around the room? Or will the Oscars, like so many events this year, go virtual?

Some voices have spoken positively about the changes to awards season. The 2020 Academy Awards were considered to be too rushed, as the ceremony took place early in February (The Wrap). Perhaps this year, with the Academy allocating an entire month for nominees to be considered (between Mar. 15 and April 15), the voters will have time to thoughtfully and unhurriedly decide on the winners.      

Others have pointed out that the shake-up to awards season may put films of all types on equal footing (Vanity Fair). During the pandemic, large-scale, flashy productions with huge sets and crowd scenes were basically impossible to make. The films that did get made tended to be smaller and more intimate. Furthermore, many major films did not get the huge theatrical releases and promotional press that usually garner them attention. Stephanie Zacharek, in an article for TIME, suggested that this lack of spectacle may turn the awards season spotlight onto films that wouldn’t normally be seen as contenders.

Over the past years, the Academy Awards have drawn fewer viewers and a considerable amount of criticism. However, with the changes due to the pandemic, Anthony Breznican has proposed that the 2021 ceremony may be “a more pure Oscars” (Vanity Fair). With a slower-pace and a more introspective atmosphere, perhaps the Oscars will be able to refocus on the art of cinema, without the distractions of glamour and glitz.