Every year sees the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seemingly snub some movies when it comes to films being nominated for the Academy Awards. And of course, this year was no exception. As the nominations were announced this morning, some folks on social media were questioning why Disney’s presentation of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton had not received any Oscar consideration.
The performance of Hamilton captured for the film that is currently streaming on Disney+ had been filmed in 2017 while of the show’s original cast were still present in the company. Disney had set an October 2021 theatrical release date for the filmed version, but moved the film’s release forward to July, 2020, setting it to premier on Disney+ as a way of garnering attention, and more specifically new subscribers, to the recently launched service.
In this year of coronavirus-shuttered movie theaters, the Academy has changed their eligibility rules so that films that had been intended for theatrical release but were forced to shift to streaming could be nominated for an Oscar. And previous concert stage performances that had been filmed and then released as films have been eligible for nomination, with James Whitmore receiving a Best Actor nomination for his work in the one-man stage play Give ‘Em Hell, Harry, which was filmed and released into cinemas. So why wasn’t Hamilton, which has earned just about every other award it is eligible for under the sun, not nominated for an Academy Award?
Is there a shadowy cabal of Academy members working behind the scenes to keep Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda from getting an Oscar, the only award he needs in order to complete the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) awards quadrilogy? No, nothing so exciting, unfortunately.
The real reason lies more in the vagaries of some of the Academy’s rules for the awards show and the unique nature of the Hamilton film.
If Disney had thought to submit Hamilton into the Documentary category of the Oscars, they would have found that they would not qualify. The qualification rules for the Best Documentary Feature category specifically state, “Works that are essentially promotional or instructional are not eligible, nor are works that are essentially unfiltered records of performances.” (Rule 11, Part III, Section A, line 8) Since Hamilton is a recording of a stage performance, it does not meet the definition for documentary as outlined by the Academy.
So then, was it eligible to compete as a feature film and go through the nomination process? According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Academy’s Awards Rules Committee anticipated just that question and so met and ruled on the possibility late last year. They ultimately decided to disqualify Hamilton from Oscar consideration, pointing to Rule Two, Paragraph 2.g of the 93rd Academy Awards Rules, which states in part: “The Awards Rules Committee will evaluate all matters of rules and eligibility.”
So basically, the Academy gets the final word as to whether or a not a film qualifies to compete in the Academy Awards, especially in the even that the rules are not clear enough over the film’s eligibility. And in this case, the Academy is saying it isn’t eligible because they said so. So there.
And while I am sure that Lin-Manuel Miranda would gladly clear some space on an already overcrowded awards shelf if he were to have an Oscar statue to take home, it looks like it won’t be happening this year. But with the upcoming release of In The Heights, a traditionally filmed feature adaptation of his stage musical of the same name, as well as numerous other film projects in the works, he most likely will have a number of other chances to make that happen.