When the curtain finally goes up on the Academy Awards on February 24, it will bring the curtain down on one of the most clunky, controversy-riddled and entertaining lead ups to the Oscars in its 91-year history.
The latest twist is an unprecedented public duel between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Screen Actors Guild, which has accused the Oscars of “self-serving intimidation” to secure exclusive presenters.
Call it envelopes at 12 paces.
In a strongly worded open letter, the union called out the Academy for using “extraordinary and unwarranted pressure” to keep actors it wants to book for the Oscars from first appearing as presenters at January 27’s SAG Awards.
“We have received multiple reports of these activities and have experienced firsthand the Academy’s graceless pressure tactics and attempts to control the awards show talent pipeline,” the guild said in a statement on January 14 (US time).
“Awards season is a very special time when actors and actresses are being appropriately celebrated and recognised for the outstanding quality of their work.
“We would expect the Academy to honour these goals.”
The union didn’t stop there, producing a kapow second act: “The apparent attempt by the Academy to keep our members from presenting on their own awards show is utterly outrageous and unacceptable.”
It concluded, “We call on the Academy to cease this inappropriate action”.
The union also took its fight to Twitter.
Actors should be free to accept any offer to participate in industry celebrations. @TheAcademy attempts to intimidate SAG-AFTRA members are meant to limit their opportunities. #sagaftramembers https://t.co/qnrzyis7LB
— SAG-AFTRA (@sagaftra) January 14, 2019
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a “similar skirmish” is ongoing between the producers of January 6’s Golden Globe Awards and the Academy.
People close to the production of the Globes are “furious” the Academy interfered with their recruitment of presenters at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s event, THR said.
“They’ve done it for years,” a source said.
The Globes team was reportedly told by agents and managers that the Academy told them if their clients presented at the Globes, they would be banned from appearing at the Oscars.
Margot Robbie is among stars believed to have chosen the Oscars. The Mary Queen of Scots actor didn’t make room in her schedule for the Globes this year.
As to why the Academy is so red hot to lock down the most prestigious of Hollywood’s A-listers, let’s recap what you might have missed in the past few episodes.
Things started to go pear-shaped in August, when the Academy announced – then swiftly put on ice – a decision to create a new award category for popular film.
Then last month, the long search to fill the post of host – called showbiz’s “most perilous assignment” by The Hollywood Reporter – ended with comedian Kevin Hart finally signing.
He resigned two days later over a series of old homophobic tweets, propelling producer Donna Gigliotti into what was described as “flaming-engines crisis mode”.
Since then, the Academy hasn’t been able to use smoke and mirrors or cold hard cash to lure any other star into hosting duties. It is now reportedly resigned to not having a fixed presenter for the first time since 1989.
That “beautiful, glittering car crash” 30 years ago is “still considered the biggest disaster in the award show’s history,” according to Los Angeles Magazine.
It noted the show kicked off with an entrance by a faux Snow White “followed by a gruelling 11-minute musical number with dancing tables and chairs, Rob Lowe singing Proud Mary, and lots of other things that made the audience visibly want to die”.
Variety reported on January 9 it was told by Academy insiders the show will go ahead with a rotating cast of stars to present various segments.
“Barring an 11th-hour pivot by the Academy – in the event that a superstar host materialises – the show producers are moving forward with a broadcast that will focus on starry skits,” the site claimed.