What's an Oscar telecast without a little drama? Or even a lot of drama, courtesy of controversy and the ever obliging social media.
The drama’s not just on the big screen at the daddy of all Hollywood awards shows. The big controversy this year involved Kevin Hart. The popular actor and comedian was signed to host the show. When some old homophobic tweets and jokes resurfaced, Hart bailed on the Academy, leaving the show without a host.
Then came more controversy, involving nominated songs and award presenters, sparking disgruntled tweets from film fans and members of the Academy alike. One might imagine the Academy might be mortified by all this harsh publicity.
One would be wrong, said Shari Zeck, interim dean of Milner Library at Illinois State University and GLT’s Culture Maven.
“People are losing interest, so they have to gin up some free advertising somehow,” she said with a grin. “I’m not convinced they did it with Kevin Hart, but I’m sure they did it with the song.”
Originally, the Academy announced that only two of the five Best Original Song nominees would be performed at the ceremony. After much consternation from the public (and Lady Gaga), the Academy relented.
“There was public outcry, lots and lots of press, headlines, headlines, and now they’ve said that they would have all five be performed.”
The Academy also announced that it would break from tradition and not have last year’s winner’s present the acting awards during the show. Cue more freaked out tweeting.
“The Oscar producers decided last year’s winners just were not big enough names to be a good television draw,” Zeck explained.
While the actors were still smarting from that blow, the Academy reversed course. Again.
“They relented on that, but again—lots of free press.”
The host debacle is another story, Zeck observed.
“Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Bob Hope hosted the show for many years. Then Billy Crystal did it year after year and people would look forward to Billy Crystal as much as the show itself regarding who would win or lose. We just don’t have anybody right now that is that kind of draw to the show, who has that kind of identity with the show.”
“The really good hosts are good not just because they can read the lines that are presented to them, but because when there are those glitches and things come up that aren’t quite right, they can ad lib and they can make an uncomfortable moment funny.”
But not just any "funny" will do. Zeck points to the disastrous turn of Seth Macfarlane’s hosting gig at the Oscars.
“He was awful. There were several jokes that he made that rubbed people the wrong way. He’s a really good example of where Oscar can get itself into trouble by trying to go to someone who appeals to a younger, hipper audience. They’re going to get people who shoot from the hip, whose speak off-the-cuff whose humor is not placid and bland. And, of course, things are complicated by social media. Every random thought someone has had is out there to be discovered. I think trying to find people who can connect with a younger audience, who have never said or done anything to offend anyone is going to be very difficult.”
Regarding the awards, Zeck said this year Glenn Close will win top honors for her role in “The Wife.”
For Best Actor, Zeck favored Rami Malek for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Despite the controversy surrounding director Bryan Singer facing charges of sexual misconduct, Zeck said there’s a good deal of positive feelings around Malek for his strong work in the film and the actor shouldn’t be impacted by association with the controversy-plagued Singer.
For Best Picture, Zeck predicted that “Black Panther” will claim a well-deserved Oscar.
The live Oscar telecast is Sunday at 7 p.m. on ABC.
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