When COVID-19 shut down most of society in mid-March, movie theaters closed and only a handful of drive-ins were left open by April. Nearly every major title from Mulan to James Bond was rescheduled out of 2020's second-quarter releases, which threw the calendar year into an uproar, especially where awards season is concerned. To compensate, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has announced the 2021 Oscars will be in April. More importantly, the eligibility window will be extended beyond the original Dec. 31, 2020, cut off date.
AMPAS had already made changes to this year's rules. Back in April, the board of governors voted to ease Oscar-eligibility requirements significantly. The major rule changes were that films did not have to screen in Los Angeles for at least one full week to qualify. Also, if the film were scheduled for theatrical release in 2020 and moved to streaming-release only, it would not be penalized. (Prior rules stated films must release in theaters and not move to streaming for at least 30 days to be considered.)
Now, AMPAS has gone further, scheduling the 2021 Oscars for April 25. The last time the Oscars were held that late was the 1930s, long before it started being televised in the 1950s.
According to Deadline, AMPAS consulted with both studios and distributors, as well as L.A.'s Department of Public Health, in choosing to schedule the Oscars at the end of April and extending the eligibility release window. The final cut off date for films to be considered for the Oscars will now Feb. 28, 2021.
The last time the Oscars did a "split year" eligibility was 1932-1933, when AMPAS ended the tradition of a November ceremony in 1932, moving to March in 1934, skipping a 1933 ceremony altogether. As for the 2022 ceremony, no one knows what will happen, but the Academy will most likely attempt to push back to a Dec. 31 cut off as soon as logistically possible.
All of this will, naturally, affect the entire awards season calendar. Traditionally, awards season begins with the double whammy of the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals at the end of August/beginning of September. But to do so now would make for an eight-month campaign season, which no one wants. (Moving the 2020 Oscars up to Feb. 9 earlier this year was an effort to curtail the endless and expensive campaigns.)
Chances are, film festivals will now end up scheduled later, and the bulk of award season releases, usually timed for the holiday season, will shift to Valentine's Day. Moreover, the various Guild Awards and the BAFTAs, all of which time themselves around the Academy Awards, will also move dates to match. Whether or not the Golden Globes follow suit, or continue to insist on a Jan-Dec schedule, remains to be seen.
The 2021 Academy Awards will air on Sunday, Apr. 25, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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