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Will the Oscars 2021 be virtual? What to expect, from red carpets to the eligibility of streaming-only films

Last year, the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony was one of the last bits of normality before things went south. In a packed Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite made history as the first non-English language film to be named Best Picture, Joaquin Phoenix and Renée Zellweger scooped Best Actor and Best Actress respectively, and no-one was all too bothered about coronavirus.

This time round, things will, of course, be a lot different. The Academy has already announced a number of key changes to how the Oscars will work in 2021, from the nature of its ceremony to the eligibility of films.

So, how will it all pan out? Here, we take a look at everything we know so far.

Will there be an in-person Oscars ceremony in 2021?

It’s a definite maybe. Reports circulated earlier this week suggesting the Academy had committed to an in-person ceremony for 2021, but these have since been quashed. It does, however, look as if organisers are seriously considering it. A source close to the matter told Variety that “the Academy has done a walkthrough of the Dolby recently to see all the multiple options”.

One thing is for certain. though. The ceremony will no longer take place in its usual February slot, having already been pushed back until April 25. Even with the readjustment, questions remain: how many people will be allowed inside the 3,400-capacity theatre? Will it make for a socially distance red carpet? Will people even turn up if the pandemic is still running riot in the US (both the number of deaths and hospitalisations are currently at an all-time high in the country)? With news of a vaccine on its way, there is hope, but as with everything else right now, only time will tell.

In the past, the Academy has refused to recognise a film unless it screened for at least seven days in a Los Angeles county commercial cinema, meaning those that appeared solely on streaming services were given the cold shoulder. It’s led to criticism from some commentators, who argue it’s a disservice to ignore the huge role streaming plays in the film world these days, while others have praised its steadfast backing of cinemas.

But in 2020, the Academy has relented: films that debuted on a streaming service without a theatrical release will be eligible for the first time ever. It’s a big break from tradition, and the Academy has said the rule will only apply for this year (the submissions deadline has however been extended from December 31 2020 until February 28 2021).

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