Since the Oscars were first televised in 1953, the job for this master of ceremonies has come with a prestige unlike any other hosting job. In that 66 years there have been legendary hosts (Bob Hope), perfectly serviceable hosts (Ellen DeGeneres) and the worst hosts of all time (sorry, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, but it's true). Earlier this year comedian and actor Kevin Hart was announced as host of the 2019 ceremony, but as quickly as he was named old tweets were dug up, showing Hart's history of making disparaging comments against the LGBTQ+ community.
The Oscars has always been a ceremony based on appearances, and not just in regards to what the stars are wearing. The Academy, and by extension the ABC television network that airs the ceremony, are hyper-vigilant about how audiences will take any little joke, comment, or moment. Whether it's analyzing what will make people watch the show, or believing Rob Lowe singing along with Snow White in 1989 was a good idea, the Oscars are a ceremony built around presenting a facade, so Hart's comments were seen as nothing short of an embarrassment.
Hart was delivered an ultimatum: apologize or lose the hosting gig. He chose the latter and thus, for the first time in the Academy's history, there will be no host. Instead we will be treated to a revolving round table of actors and bits or, to put it bluntly, what the Oscars have been doing for the last few years.
Yes, there have been hosts, but the role of the Oscar host has taken a significant downturn from when it first started. Legendary tastemakers like Johnny Carson and Bob Hope were able to command a room and, with their fingers in several Hollywood pies (television, producing, filmmaking), they were able to make jokes and maintain the respect of the audience. They weren't just comedians, but rather lived up to the title of "master of ceremonies." Nowadays, the role of an Oscar host doesn't have that same veneer. In the last few years, the host was considered successful if they stayed on-stage for more than an hour without producing a cringe-worthy moment. It's not surprising to see a host disappear until a commercial break, only to return to remind you of what you are watching. They are not there to elevate the show, so much as to give it a tenuous anchor.
This year, the Academy was so desperate to retain Hart it essentially enlisted Ellen DeGeneres' help to get him to apologize for his comments, thus making it socially acceptable for Hart to keep the gig. Or so they thought. In the end, DeGeneres and Hart's conversation proved to be problematic on a whole new level. For a ceremony all about appearances, this was the fakest gesture of "wokeness" you could get. But it shows the rigid, and outdated standards, the Oscars are employing. For them, it was better to have a problematic host then no host at all. The Oscars are incredibly set in their ways and to go without a host is easily the biggest change the Academy's had in several decades, probably since they started being televised. Yet is it better to keep an outdated concept when audiences are able to see it hasn't worked in years?
It's also a slap in the face for those who have been fighting for change within the industry. Last year, the Academy Awards became a launchpad for the voices of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Throughout social media there's been a raging debate about how much (or how little) the movements have accomplished. Retaining Hart, especially in a year where Bohemian Rhapsody ⏤ a film nominated in spite of widespread sexual assault allegations against its director, Bryan Singer ⏤ is nominated for Best Picture seems like an anathema to everything the Academy has claimed to be about.
So the question becomes: Is there actually a need for an Oscar host? Where the Oscars can now be condensed into easily packaged clips for a YouTube and Twitter set, having a central host isn't particularly necessary. Factor that in with individual stars popping out to present various categories and it seems like this last-minute decision is just acknowledging how the Oscars should be from here on out. Having a central host do little more than present an opening monologue does nothing more than pad a ceremony the Academy has been trying to cut down on for years. Cut the hosts and allow for a smoother show that might actually be shorter in execution. It also would prevent host snafus in the future.
Will a host-less ceremony truly be revolutionary or will it just feel like more of the same? The final ceremony is in a few weeks and we'll see. If the Academy truly wants to break with tradition this will be a glimpse at things to come or, if a host returns next year, further proof of how out-of-touch the Academy truly is.
The 91st Academy Awards will air LIVE on Sunday, February 24 at 5 p.m. PST on ABC.