Will COVID spoil the Oscars?
That’s the big question as Hollywood prepares to celebrate itself on Sunday. Organizers are taking precautions to prevent the 2022 Academy Awards from being a super-spreader, as other award shows and film festivals have come to be in the pandemic era. Attendees will have to show two negative PCR tests and be fully vaccinated in order to attend the festivities. On Friday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences updated its COVID protocols and rules, announcing that people “..who tested positive for COVID-19 and are within a zero to five-day window from the date of their first positive test are not permitted to attend under any circumstances.”
There’s a reason that the rules are so stringent. This year’s Academy Awards kicks off as COVID infections are once again on the rise. On Thursday, public health officials announced that cases of BA.2, the new and highly contagious sub-variant of omicron, climbed 130% in a week, though cases remain low. Adding to the unease is the fact that the BAFTA Awards on March 13 appears to have been a variable Petri dish with studios privately reporting that dozens of executives contracted COVID at the event — stars such as Kenneth Branagh and Ciaran Hinds and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who appeared at the show, also came down with the virus. Add to that the spread of COVID at recent industry events such as SXSW, where “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Michelle Yeoh tested positive for coronavirus after the film premiered at the Texas festival. Some nominees are concerned that their recent bouts with COVID will prevent them from making the trip to the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are handed out.
Jamie Dornan recently told Variety at the Oscar Wilde Awards on Thursday that he’s hoping his “Belfast” compatriots will be on hand. “I can’t even imagine going on Sunday night without those guys,” Dornan said.
Don’t be surprised if Oscar co-hosts Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall deliver some COVID quips as a way of acknowledging the pandemic elephant in the room.
But the Oscars are but one stop on a long and boozy jaunt around Los Angeles on Sunday. Winners, nominees, power brokers and press hop from the Governor’s Ball to the Vanity Fair party to soirees hosted by the likes of Apple, Neon and Warner Bros. That kind of marathon socializing could lead to more exposures. Several party and event planners tell Variety that they’re sticking to their protocols for now — most are requiring guests to show that they are fully vaccinated (with booster, that is) and provide proof of negative test within 48 hours of the event. However, none of the events have a mask mandate and the Oscars are only recommending that guests wear masks.
“People in Hollywood are willing to go to parties and possibly contract COVID because they don’t think it’s a big deal,” one party planner said. “They see their friends and family getting it now and it’s seen more as an inconvenience than anything else.”
This source also opined, “It really is a brash display of privilege because probably most haven’t lost many people to the disease because they have money and access to health care when it was needed most during the worst part of the pandemic.”
Last night’s W magazine party was held outdoors at Gigi’s hotspot. A consistent question heard throughout the night was, “Are we all getting COVID now?” nervously joked that Oscar Guests weekend could be a “super spreader.” Mask-wearing at W’s party and a Vanity Fair party earlier in the evening at Mother Wolf was a rare sighting. Denis Villeneuve was one of the few prominent people seen wearing a mask as his team hopped from a reception for Canadian filmmakers and Canada-based productions to the W party. It was also notable because the event was held largely outside, a sign that Villeneuve isn’t taking any chances about contracting COVID before Sunday’s ceremony where his sci-fi epic “Dune” is up for 10 awards. Most event attendees seem unfazed, with much of Hollywood returning to hugging, handshaking and enthusiastic candle-blowing out in the case of Quentin Tarantino’s surprise birthday cake at W.
Since COVID upended life in 2020, the movie business has been through several peaks and valleys. Outbreaks on sets have become a staple of production, as have COVID bubbles, masks and frequent testing. The entertainment industry has grown hopeful that the virus is fading at various points, only to have Delta and Omicron emerge as painful reminders that the credits have yet to roll on the highly contagious disease. A month ago, cases seemed to be falling and the business appeared poised to celebrate a return to normalcy. Now, that festive spirit is tinged with those old feelings of anxiety and unease that have been so pervasive over the last two years.
“It’s not over,” one Oscar attendee told Variety. “We may wish COVID was finished, but it’s not done with us yet.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism