The 2021 Oscars were generally seen as a noble semi-failure, though even that descriptor seems harsh. For everything that didn’t work (the weirdly rushed In Memoriam segment, for one), there were two, maybe even three experiments that did (the cool opening long take, arguably the longer speeches). There was one failure that trumped them all: the ending. The award for Best Actor was moved to the end, knocking Best Picture — the capper for eons — down a few pegs. But it didn’t go to the perceived favorite, the late Chadwick Boseman. It went to Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t there. Then the show abruptly ended.
In what was essentially an exit interview with Vanity Fair, Steven Soderbergh — one of three producers for the rejigged pandemic-era show — stopped just shy of admitting something most people assumed was true: That Best Actor came last because Boseman was expected to win, for the August Wilson adaptation Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which would have been quite a closer. Soderbergh — an Oscar-winner himself — didn’t say that outright. But he basically said that.
Soderbergh said that that acceptance speech, which would have been given by the acclaimed actor’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, “would have been such a shattering moment” that “to come back after that would have been just impossible.” And so Best Picture was bumped to two awards back. “I said if there was even the sliver of a chance that he would win and that his widow would speak, then we were operating under the fact that was the end of the show.”
Whether he was right, we’ll never know. It was a big gamble, and the producers lost. What’s worse, it had dismal ratings (though, mind you, so have all pandemic-era awards shows). But that’s okay, Soderbergh argued, because this year was about experiments, and experiments often fail.
“You have to understand this show was very much viewed by us and by the Academy as an opportunity to try some really different stuff,” Soderbergh said. “There are going to be some things that work and some things that don’t, things that people like, things that people don’t.” He added, “That’s the point.”
Soderbergh even defended another controversial move: not allowing Anthony Hopkins, who won what would have been Boseman’s award, for his work in the Alzheimer’s drama The Father, to give his acceptance speech over Zoom. Instead, when Hopkin’s name was called, he was fast asleep in his home in Wales. When asked if he regretted not bending the rules, even for Sir Anthony Hopkins, Soderbergh’s answer was short: “No.”
(Via Vanity Fair)