All the Controversies Leading Up to the 2019 Oscars: From Kevin Hart to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Photos by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images / James Leynse/Corbis

It’s been a long, bumpy road to the 91st Academy Awards.

With this year's ceremony mere days away, there’s still plenty of uncertainty as Hollywood prepares for its biggest night. Marred by unexpected controversies, what’s supposed to be a momentous close to months of awards and glamour is turning out to be an exhaustive effort just to get through one more evening and put an end to the 2019 season.

What exactly will happen on Sunday, Feb. 24, when Hollywood gathers at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles? No one really can say -- but we're sure there will be plenty of reactions and discussions about all the controversies that have cast a shadow over the final awards show of the year. Below, we break them all down:

The Popular Oscar

One of the first missteps -- setting the tone for a lot clunky, poorly executed announcements -- was the creation of the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category. First revealed in August 2018, the Academy said it was adding a new Oscar to the 91st ceremony. However, the news was met with swift backlash and plenty of confusion. What was the award exactly? Which films would qualify? Was this just a desperate attempt at diversifying the pool of nominees and bringing blockbusters into the fold? By the following month, the Academy put the new category on hold...for now.

"There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members," Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in September. "We have made changes to the Oscars over the years -- including this year -- and we will continue to evolve while also respecting the incredible legacy of the last 90 years."

From Kevin Hart to No Host

A few months later, on Dec. 4, the Academy announced that Kevin Hart would be the night’s host. The news was met with swift backlash -- this time with receipts -- as the comedian’s past anti-gay jokes and tweets were resurfaced. Instead of apologizing, Hart pulled out of the gig. Weeks later, Ellen DeGeneres attempted to heal the nation’s divide over Hart’s hosting controversy by interviewing him on her talk show. Seen as giving Hart a free pass, DeGeneres was rebuked for not defending the LGBTQ community or holding the comedian accountable. Hart eventually went on an accountability tour, kicking things off with a poorly received Good Morning America interview with Michael Strahan.

Considered a “thankless job,” the Academy had a hard time finding a replacement, opting to "wisely" go one without a host for the first time in 30 years, when no one emceed the 1989 Oscars. The news was officially confirmed on Feb. 5, just 19 days before the ceremony, when ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke claimed, "Ironically, the lack of clarity surrounding the Oscars has kept the Oscars really in the conversation and the mystery has been compelling."

Screen Actors Guild Pushback

In an effort to draw viewers, the Academy has been trying to line up an A-list roster of presenters, including a rumored reunion of all the Avengers cast members. In order to do so, it reportedly used “extraordinary and unwarranted pressure” on actors not to present at other awards shows leading up to the Oscars, at least according to SAG-AFTRA.

In January, the actors guild issued a statement of rebuke against the Academy, saying “this self-serving intimidation of SAG-AFTRA members is meant to limit their opportunities to be seen and honor the work of their fellow artists throughout the season. Actors should be free to accept any offer to participate in industry celebrations. The apparent attempt by the Academy to keep our members from presenting on their own awards show is utterly outrageous and unacceptable.”

Blowing Off Last Year's Best Actors

When it was first reported that the Academy planned to break with tradition and not invite last year's acting winners back to present the opposite-sex awards this year, at least one of those winners spoke up. "It's looking like they are not going to honor the tradition this year," Allison Janney, who won Best Supporting Actress in 2018 for I, Tonya, wrote on Instagram. "It breaks my heart."

Reports claimed that Oscars producers wanted the "biggest possible stars" to present, which was met with confusion, considering the preceding winners -- Janney, Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman -- are big stars. The Academy backpedaled on this change, too, and ultimately invited all four to present, albeit in a new way, according to Deadline: The reigning Best Actor (Oldman) and Best Supporting Actress (Janney) will now team up to present the Best Actor award, while last year's Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell) will announce Best Actress.

Three Hours or Bust

One of the issues facing all Oscar ceremonies is the runtime, which has continuously increased in length over the past decades and has been blamed for sagging viewership. The ceremony has not been less than three hours since the early ‘70s despite repeated goals to limit the show to three hours -- the target goal for 2019.

However, with all the changes made to the lineup -- and all the changes that have since been reversed -- the producers do not believe this year will hit that mark. “We were hired to deliver a shortened show. How do we do that so you’re not seeing award, award, commercial, award, commercial, award? So boring,” the show’s lead producer, Donna Gigliotti, told the New York Times.

Nixed Music Performances

One of the attempts to shorten the length of the telecast was by having only two of the five Best Original Song nominees perform. Oscars producers reportedly only wanted to include the two most popular songs, "All the Stars" from Black Panther and A Star Is Born’s "Shallow." Lady Gaga, who is nominated for co-writing “Shallow,” apparently played a key role in the Academy’s decision to walk back that position and invite all the nominees to perform. Now, four of the nominated songs are confirmed for the show, while Kendrick Lamar and SZA will ultimately not be performing, ET has learned.

Joining the roundup of musical performances is a number by Queen with Adam Lambert, the latter stepping in for Freddie Mercury. They’re expected to kick off the night in the absence of a traditional opening monologue by the host.

Cut Categories

On Feb. 11, the Academy stated that four categories -- Best Cinematography, Best Live Action Short Film, Best Film Editing, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling -- would be presented during commercial breaks, with the winners' acceptance speeches edited and aired later in the ceremony. Almost immediately, prominent members of the Academy -- including nominee Alfonso Cuarón, Martin Scorsese, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, among others -- spoke out against the decision. Four days later, with only a week left before the awards, the Academy reversed its decision and confirmed that all 24 Oscars would be handed out live on TV.

The controversies leading up to the Oscars haven’t all been caused by the Academy. Many of the other narratives around the awards are thanks to the nominees themselves.

Green Book's Many Scandals

The divisive film, which many have dubbed a redux of Driving Miss Daisy, has generated its own share of pushback and scandal thanks to three key people involved in the project. First, Best Actor nominee Viggo Mortensen, who said the N-word during a panel discussion on Nov. 7. Mortensen issued an apology to The Hollywood Reporter the next day, explaining that his "intention was to speak strongly against racism."

Months later, shortly after the film started collecting a number of accolades, it was revealed that co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga, who is also the son of the film’s subject, took to Twitter in 2015 to agree with Donald Trump’s debunked claims about Muslims cheering after 9/11 were true. Vallelonga quickly issued an apology and deleted his Twitter account.

While Vallelonga’s Twitter came under fire, The Cut resurfaced a 1998 Newsweek cover story about director Peter Farrelly detailing recurring instances in which he flashed cast and crew members on his film sets. The director wasted no time issuing an apology for being "an idiot." "You learn, you grow. You try to become a better person," he told ET. “It’s all ultimately about the movie and that’s what we hope people see. I love this movie."

Bohemian Rhapsody Backlash

While there have been a number of poorly reviewed films that have been nominated for Academy Awards, including Best Picture, none have been as widely panned as the Queen biopic depicting Freddie Mercury and the band’s rise to fame. Despite being criticized for straight-washing Mercury’s sexuality and called out for its "bullsh*t" revisionist history, not to mention its poor writing and editing, the film is the third highest-grossing Best Picture nominee and a frontrunner for several awards.

The Bryan Singer Allegations

Bohemian Rhaposdy’s journey to the screen has been a bumpy one as well. Stuck in development hell, the film eventually moved forward when the band gave its blessing to director Bryan Singer to helm the project. Singer, however, failed to make it across the finish line after he was fired for reportedly clashing with star Rami Malek and disappearing from set for days at a time. The remaining two weeks of filming were completed by the cinematographer.

While his directing credit was not removed, Singer has largely been left out of the film’s awards season narrative. The filmmaker has even taken to Instagram to celebrate and take credit for its wins over the past few months.

In addition to reports about his onset behavior, The Atlantic published extensive allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Singer, who has adamantly denied all claims made by accusers. While the allegations have gone a long way to blacken Singer’s reputation, Malek’s journey to Best Actor frontrunner has not been slowed. (Though, many felt that he should have spoken out sooner or acknowledged the alleged victims in his acceptance speeches.)


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