It takes multiple hands of masters, artists and filmmakers to bring a story to life, no matter the cinematic medium. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has designated categories to recognize the achievements of artists working on animation, documentary features, and shorts, an opportunity to be rewarded. However, just because you directed or produced one of these specialty films doesn’t mean these contributions will be officially named in the Oscar nominations.
To the untrained Oscar eye, it might not be obvious that despite “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” picking up a nomination for best animated feature, one of the three directors, Joaquim Dos Santos, was not among the listed nominees. It’s an arbitrary rule of the Academy that only four “teams” may be recognized in the animated feature category.
The official nominees from “Spider-Verse” are Dos Santos’ fellow directors Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, producing partners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and producer Amy Pascal. Two other PGA marked producers, Avi Arad and Christina Steinberg, are also outside the recognized nominees.
The rules for the 96th awards outlined in the Animated Feature category read: “The award recipient(s) shall be designated by those responsible for the film’s production. The designated recipient(s) must be the key creative individual(s) most clearly responsible for the overall achievement. There is a maximum of FOUR designated nominees, one of whom must be the credited director who exercised directorial control, and the other(s) of whom must have a director or producer credit. In determining the number of producers eligible for nomination, a bona fide team of not more than two people shall be considered a single ‘producer’ if the two individuals have had an established producing partnership as determined by the PGA’s Producing Partnership Panel.”
When it came time to fill out the official form needed to submit to the Academy, Sony Pictures and the filmmaking team went before the Animation Branch committee to gain an exception to include all three of its directors or submit them as one “team.” The executive committee declined the request, leaving the ultimate decision up to the filmmakers to decide who would be left out on the official form.
It’s bad enough the film was passed over in categories such as visual effects and original score, but the medium that already has difficulty garnering the proper respect from the Hollywood industry is being screwed over in its own category.
Pascal, the former chairperson of the Motion Pictures Group of Sony Pictures Entertainment, was a victim of the ruling during the first animated installment, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Although she was a PGA credited producer on the movie, the directing trio – Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman – along with Lord and Miller were the official nominees and eventual winners for the 2018 smash. It would be hard to imagine Pascal would sit it out again this time.
Subsequently, that left the group to make the painful decision to theoretically say: “Despite your endless passion for this artistic and successful vision, your contributions will not be recognized in the eyes of the Academy.”
This rule has left many artists on the sidelines. “Spider-Verse” director Powers experienced this in 2020 as a “co-director” (another arbitrary label) of Pixar’s animated feature winner “Soul.” That’s because co-directors are not eligible for nominations, and that left Powers without an official statuette, the same year he penned the Oscar-nominated drama “One Night in Miami.” Notably, the Golden Globes don’t have rules regarding co-directors, which allowed Powers to make history as the first Black director to win the category.
Lord and Miller have long been recognized as a producing partnership, as has been the case with most of their feature films such as “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie.”
The same instance occurred with another Lord and Miller-produced project from the same year, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which garnered an animated nod for its producing team, along with producer Kurt Albrecht and director Mike Rianda. That left co-director Jeff Rowe, who helmed the Oscar-snubbed “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” this past year, without a nom.
One of the live-action short films also faced a similar painful omission with actor and producer David Oyelowo, who is not an official nominee for “The After” from Netflix. Director Misan Harriman and producer Nicky Bentham are the official nominees. “A maximum of two persons may be designated as nominees,” the Oscars‘ rules read for live-action short films. Considering his previous major Oscar snub in best actor for “Selma” (2014), it’s disappointing he’s still without a career nomination. There are also three credited producers for another live action short, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” — Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales and director Wes Anderson. However, Dawson, Anderson’s longtime collaborator who was nominated for “Isle of Dogs” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was not among the nominees.
Many may recall Apple’s animated winning short from 2022, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse,” had one of its two directors among the nominees, Charlie Mackesy, and one producer, Matthew Freud, with space for only two, so producer J.J. Abrams and one of the directors, Peter Baynton, were left out.
The Academy has long limited the producing credits for films in multiple categories such as best picture (up to three “teams”), animated feature, documentary feature, and the shorts categories. Even in the Best International Feature, a person isn’t nominated in the category; instead, only the country the film is representing is named. However, when a film wins the Oscar, the director’s name is on the statuette, but they are not recognized as an official winner (something that must sting Asghar Farhadi, two-time category winner for “A Separation” and “The Salesman”).
Moreover, there isn’t a limit to the number of writers in the screenplay categories, as seen with seven nominated scribes for “Toy Story” (1995) in original screenplay or nine screenwriters for the comedy sequel “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (2020) in adapted screenplay.
Regarding best picture, particularly as financing has become more complicated, with numerous producers being credited for making a single film, it’s still a sensitive subject. The best picture winner “Crash” (2005) had multiple producers fighting about official credits, which ultimately left Don Cheadle without a statuette, and Margot Robbie wasn’t an official nominee for Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” (2020).
When the Academy first loosened the restrictions for credited producers in 2007, then-AMPAS president Sid Ganis said the Academy “believes strongly that it’s very important to have a limit on the number of producers who can be nominated and potentially receive an Oscar. But we also recognize that a truly unique situation could arise, and we want to have just enough flexibility to allow for that rare occurrence.”
Some more flexibility should be discussed after this year’s ceremony. The Academy re-evaluates all current rules and regulations annually following each ceremony.
The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10.