11 July 2024

The coronavirus has had an immense impact on the Oscars and indeed, the entertainment industry in general

COVID-19 overshadowed Oscars this year, but the lukewarm attention to what many consider as the most important event of the movie industry was just one of several side effects of the coronavirus on the entertainment world.

This year’s Oscars ceremony took place at a time when all movie theatres in Thailand’s capital have been forced to close in the wake of the new outbreak. #Oscar did not even make it to Thailand’s top Twitter trending.

Before the pandemic, viewing the Oscars show was a must for any die-hard movie fan, with group viewings at movie theatres bringing together cinephiles to celebrate the Academy Awards together.

The coronavirus has changed all that.

“The overall Oscars ceremony this year is a reflection of the movie industry as a whole. Gone are the glamour, state-of-the-art stages and spectacular shows. The way the event was held this year made me rub my eyes in disbelief. It was like the Oscars were being held in a modest auditorium or at a Chinese restaurant,”  said Yutthana Boonorm aka Pa Ted, senior executive vice president for show business at GMM Grammy Plc.

Rockwell Group Oscars main ceremony.(Photo by Spencer Lowell for Rockwell Group)

The Oscars have long been most anticipated event for movie buffs. Normally, fans would watch as many Oscar candidates as they could while movie theatres would launch Oscars promotions to celebrate the occasion. The more Oscar nominees fans see, the merrier the Academy Awards presentation. The lead-up to the ceremony always excites the fans.

Yutthana told Thai PBS World that this year he was less interested in the Oscar-nominated movies even though they were available on streaming services. “I want to finish my series first and told myself that I could watch that ‘Oscars stuff’ later. This is new for me.”

TV ratings tell the story. In US, a report says the show experienced an all-time low rating with a 58% drop in total viewers compared to last year’s. The 93rd Academy Awards drew 9.85 million viewers on Sunday (in the USA). The decline in viewers follows the same pattern as the Grammys (51% down), Golden Globes (62% down) and SAG Awards (52% down).

Interest in the Academy Awards has been falling off in recent years and even though most of nominated films are on streaming services and people did not need to risk their health going to the theatres, the hype about the Oscars simply wasn’t there.

Chloe Zhao accepts the Oscar for Directing “Nomadland” during the live ABC Telecast of The 93rd Oscars at Union Station in Los Angeles, on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Todd Wawrychuk / AMPAS / AFP)

Lerla, a movie buffs in her 40’s, followed her “Oscar routine” and avoided exposing herself to the virus by watching the movies at home. “I managed to watch some movies on online platforms. For instance, “Nomadland” is available on Hulu.”

In Thailand, people watched the ceremony either live on Monday morning before starting work or the rerun in the evening. Lerla was among the first group. “I’ve watched the live Oscar broadcast for almost two decades.” She normally posts her predictions and results with comments on Facebook. This year it seems not too many people are engaging with her posts.

Lerla also thinks the show was far from grand.  “Unnecessary parts of the programme were removed to reduce the number of people on the stage and off it. However,  I still have a high regard for the Academy and to me the winners are geniuses,” she said.

The pandemic has resulted in many new releases being postponed and the movies that did come out in 2020 were on streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime, HBO Max, and Hulu. While some of the most prominent contenders from big studios were absent, there was room for more diverse players.

Perhaps most exciting and delightful, at least for Thai cinephiles like Lerla and other Asian fans, were the significant wins of those from ethnic backgrounds, such as Chloé Zhao as Best Director for “Nomadland” and Yuh-Jung Youn as Best Supporting Actress in “Minari”.

Zhao made Oscar history as the first non-white woman to win the award. She is also the only second woman to win Best Director. “If this win means more people get to live their dream, then I am extremely grateful … I think for Asian filmmakers & all filmmakers, we have to stay true to who we are,” she said in her acceptance speech.

A report by the Annenberg Institute points out that Netflix’s output is more diverse than the industry as a whole, offering opportunities to filmmakers who might struggle within the Hollywood system. For these filmmakers, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed experiences of distributing films, but it has provided a more receptive audience unburdened by the mainstream fare of multiplexes.

Perhaps when the doors of the multiplexes close, new doors open for non-white talents including the 73-year-old Yuh-Jung Youn who became the first Korean actor to win the Oscar.

“Covid-19 has completely disrupted the movie industry,” says Yutthana.

By Veena Thoopkrajae