The 94th annual Academy Awards will air live on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 27, hosted by Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall. In keeping with the Covid times, nominees and guests will be required to show proof of vaccination plus two negative PCR tests prior to attending. And those aren’t the only changes people are talking about this year. Here’s what else you need to know about Hollywood’s big night out.

Ceremonial Style
The Academy Awards broadcast has faced criticism over the years for being too long or just not moving quickly enough. Ratings, of course, can swing significantly from year to year. While the last two years, in the face of Covid, have been anything but normal, ratings for the 2021 event totaled only 9.23 million TV viewers, making it was the least-watched in the show’s history. In an effort to counter this slump, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced they’d be presenting a more streamlined broadcast. Eight of the 23 total categories typically honored will be eliminated from this year’s broadcast. Instead, statuettes for Documentary Short, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Animated Short, Live Action Short and Sound will be handed out prior to the show. Edited snippets of those acceptance moments will then be peppered throughout the evening. This follows a model already employed by the Tony Awards and other live ceremonies, which in the interest of time, recognize technical achievements during separate events. Although this announcement was met with frustration from nominees in the affected groups, the Academy is sticking by its decision. “After carefully listening to feedback and suggestions from our film community, our network partner and all those who love the Oscars, it was evident we needed to make some decisions about the broadcast that are in the best interest of the future of our show and our organization,” said Academy President David Rubin.

In another 2022 twist, the Academy has partnered with Twitter to announce a new Fan Favorite award. Twitter users can cast up to 20 votes a day for any film released in 2021—even those not nominated for an Oscar—using the hashtags #OscarsFanFavorite and #Sweepstakes. The top title will be announced live during the show, and three participating Twitter users will win an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to present an award at next year’s event. “The Oscars are an opportunity to bring people around the world together through their shared movie love, and through these activations social media users around the world now have more opportunities to engage with the show in real-time, find a community and be a part of the experience in ways they’ve never been able to before,” said Meryl Johnson, the Academy’s VP of digital marketing.

Women in Charge
The Oscars is nearly 100 years old, but more work remains when it comes to achieving gender parity and racial equity. In 2015, the #OscarsSoWhite movement called attention to the fact that all 20 acting nominations had gone to white actors for two consecutive years. This time, many are wondering about the opportunities afforded to female directors. It took nearly 50 years for the first woman to be nominated in the Best Director category, when Lina Wertmuller received that 1976 nod for her film, Seven Beauties, which she ultimately lost to John Avildsen for his work on Rocky. In 1993, Jane Campion became the second woman nominated in this field for The Piano, and Kathryn Bigelow claimed that prize for the first time thanks to her 2009 war drama, The Hurt Locker. New records were achieved last year, after two women—Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell—were simultaneously nominated (for their films Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, respectively). Nominations this year, however, saw a slight dip in the total number of films directed by a woman. Of the 276 movies released in 2021 that were eligible for a Best Picture award, only 75 had a woman behind the camera, down from 100 in 2020.

This year’s group of talented female filmmakers includes Jane Campion, whose offering, The Power of the Dog, scored 12 Oscar nominations and more than any other film. That makes her only the second female director to be nominated twice in this category (and she’ll be facing off against Steven Spielberg again this year, to whom she lost in 1993 when he took home the top prize for Schindler’s List). Actress turned first-time-filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal got a best adapted screenplay nod for her work on The Lost Daughter, based on the eponymous Elena Ferrante novel. If she wins it will be the first time a woman has taken that prize since 2005, when Diana Ossana nabbed it for Brokeback Mountain (adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx). Other nominees of note include Ari Wegner in the best cinematography group for The Power of the Dog—only the second woman ever nominated in this category—and Encanto co-director Charise Castro Smith for best animated feature.

Going for Gold
In the best actor category, Will Smith landed his third nomination for King Richard (following recognition for The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006 and Ali in 2001), and many believe momentum is on his side. A win would make him only the fifth Black actor to take home the top prize. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog) and Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick…Boom!) are also in the running. Best actress favorites include Kristen Stewart, nominated for the first time for her role as Princess Diana in Spencer. Among other firsts, she’s the film’s sole nomination and the only acting nominee whose movie wasn’t picked for any other category. Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) were also selected. Steven Spielberg’s best director nomination is for West Side Story—his first musical. A win would give him a total of three statuettes, though Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) and Kenneth Branagh (Belfast) are likewise generating buzz. Finally, there are a total of 10 favorites for best picture this year, running the gamut from films released by major studios (MGM’s Licorice Pizza, Warner Bros’ Dune) to those put out by streaming platforms (CODA from Apple Original Films, Don’t Look Up by Netflix). We can’t wait to see what memorable moments and surprises this year’s Oscars brings!

Flo Mitchell-Brown
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