One of my first big initiatives after joining Variety was to launch a weekly franchise called Artisans, a dedicated feature covering the world of the talented craftspeople who toil behind the scenes on every production made in Hollywood and elsewhere: the editors, production designers, costume and makeup artists, sound engineers and other specialists whose contributions are vital to the fabric of the industry and to breathing life into the movies and television shows we watch on the big and small screens.
I felt this was a part of the industry that was woefully under-covered, and therefore by devoting special space to telling their stories and profiling them in our magazine, on our website and in video interviews, we’d be giving these unsung heroes their proper due. Over the past few years, we’ve greatly expanded our coverage under the leadership of our wiz Artisans editor Jazz Tangcay, who has deep ties throughout the artistic community.
So, you can only imagine how she and I are both feeling about the Motion Picture Academy’s highly contested decision last week to give short shrift to eight Oscar categories during the March 27 ceremony — a decision it is not prepared to reverse.
The organization decided that winners in film editing, original score, sound, production design and makeup and hairstyling, along with animated short, documentary short and live-action short, would be disinvited from delivering their acceptance speeches live, as is customary, in hopes of goosing the show’s declining ratings (good luck with that). Instead these winners would be prerecorded and edited into the program.
The controversial move has generated widespread outrage from artisans, who find it degrading and unacceptable. So far, three organizations have spoken out publicly, the American Cinema Editors, the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the Set Decorators Society of America, the last of which sent a letter to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and president David Rubin saying, “In a climate of great cultural and political divide, the Academy has elected to demote eight branches from equal recognition at the Academy Awards,” calling the action “a material blow and an unnecessary one.” Many people are seething, both publicly and privately, and you can expect more to air their anger.
“There are a lot of people who are fuming and need to speak up,” says Tangcay, who also is urging directors, producers and actors to express their solidarity with artisans. “That’s my plea,” she says.
Director Guillermo del Toro is the first filmmaker to publicly condemn the Academy’s decision regarding the artisans. At the Hollywood Critics Assn. awards on Feb. 28, del Toro said, “We do [movies] together and people make them with us. They risk everything and make the day a miracle. If any year was the year to think about it, this is not the year not to hear their names live at the Oscars. This is the year to sing and do it live.”
Tangcay has assembled a group of a half-dozen artisans, including three Oscar winners (a hair and makeup artist, an editor and a sound editor) and current nominees, for a virtual town hall discussion this week about the Academy’s new rule.
“It’s a shame to see this happen, especially given that artisans already feel unseen and unappreciated,” says Tangcay. “This feels like a real step backward, and hopefully the Academy will reconsider this awful decision next year.”
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