Oscars 2021: Steven Soderbergh defends ending anticlimactic ceremony with Best Actor award

The producer reveals the change was made to accommodate a speech by Chadwick Boseman's widow, should the late actor have won

Joaquin Phoenix presents the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role during the 93rd Oscars in Los Angeles, California. Reuters
Joaquin Phoenix presents the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role during the 93rd Oscars in Los Angeles, California. Reuters

With a no-show winner and not even a Zoom acceptance speech, this year's Oscars were described by many critics as underwhelming, after ending on the Best Actor award instead of the usual Best Picture gong.

The trophy on the night went to Sir Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father, though the favourite in the run-up to the 93rd Academy Awards had been Chadwick Boseman.

The late actor, who died in 2020 aged 43 after battling colon cancer, had triumphed at the Golden Globes and Sag Awards for his role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

Chadwick Boseman was nominated for, but did not win, Best Actor at the 93rd Academy Awards. Reuters
Chadwick Boseman was nominated for, but did not win, Best Actor at the 93rd Academy Awards. Reuters

And, it was the possibility of his posthumous Oscar win that made the ceremony's producers switch up the show's long-established running order.

Director and screenwriter Steven Soderbergh, who worked on the 2021 ceremony, admitted that it would have been difficult to top the night should Boseman have won.

"We thought it might be fun to mix it up, especially if people didn’t know that [switching up the awards order] was coming,” the Contagion director told the Los Angeles Times in a new interview. “So that was always part of the plan.

"And then when the nominations came out and there was even the possibility that Chadwick could win posthumously, our feeling was if he were to win and his widow were to speak on his behalf, there would be nowhere to go after that. So we stuck with it.”

Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher, and Steven Soderbergh arrive to the 93rd Academy Awards, at Union Station, in Los Angeles, U.S., April 25, 2021. Chris Pizzello/Pool via REUTERS
Producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh arrive at the 93rd Academy Awards. Reuters

The filmmaker added: "It’s our belief – that I think is not unfounded – that actors’ speeches tend to be more dramatic than producers’ speeches."

On the night, Hopkins was at home in Wales when his name was announced as the Best Actor winner, and was unable to make a speech after producers banned Zoom appearances prior to the ceremony. Instead, the award was collected on his behalf in a one-sentence acceptance by presenter Joaquin Phoenix, in an anti-climactic end to the three-and-a-half-hour show.

Asked by the Los Angeles Times if he regretted not allowing Zoom acceptance speeches, Soderbergh simply replied "no".

The director, who served as Oscars producer alongside Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, also claimed he was unaware of negative feedback to the ceremony, with many criticising the show for canning the usual montages of nominated films.

"The goal was to really do something different and let the academy sift through the response and decide what they would do going forward,” Soderbergh said.

This year's Oscars audience plummeted by more than half to a record low 9.85 million viewers, ABC said after the show was broadcast, a 58 per cent tumble from 2020's previous 23.6 million nadir.

Updated: May 6, 2021 02:13 PM

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