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Should Hamilton be eligible for the Oscars?

We chew over a possibly important question

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton
© 2020 Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nevis Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

It's a question that a fair few people have been asking ever since Hamilton was filmed and put online for all to see – would it be eligible for the Academy Awards? We run through what is not as clear-cut a question as you might expect.




What is Hamilton?
This cool up-and-coming musical. You might have heard of it. Lin-Manuel Miranda's big bonanza piece about the founding of the USA and the infighting of its leaders has, five years after its Broadway premiere, arrived on streaming platform Disney Plus following a monster acquisition deal by the mammoth of all film studios.

How is it doing on Disney Plus?
Very, very, well, if reports are to be believed.Disney Plus now has more than 60 million users, soaring above initial expectations. A big part of that was probably the release of the Hamilfilm.

Not only that, but the film has proved catnip for critics – with a "Fresh" rating given near-instantly by Rotten Tomatoes. A big 'ol thumbs up.

If it's a stage show, why should it even be eligible for Oscars though?
Good question and, quite frankly, this is where things get a bit messier. As it's a film, some argue that it has every right to be eligible for the Academy Awards. It's been made using specific cinematography with tailor-made cuts and close-ups, featuring angles and shots that would never be available for live theatre audience members.

What makes things all the more complicated is the ongoing pandemic. Given the present circumstances, where so few films are even being released and many more are being delayed, the Academy may loosen its grip. Maybe.



Have stage plays ever been nominated for Oscars?

A few times – most notably the 1966 production of Othello and, a decade later, Give Em Hell Harry. Since then the Academy has altered the rules but in the last 20 years we've seen stand-up films and concert movies all appear on eligibility lists – for example Spike Lee's 2000 documentary The Original Kings of Comedy.

But it's all a bit dubious – what about Lars von Trier's wonderful film Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman (or the follow-up, Manderlay) which is set on a sound-stage and has no real sets and few props – cinema in a pseudo-Brechtian setting. That feels more like live performance than cinema. (Someone really needs to put Dogville on stage, by the way).

So what does the Academy say?
In a roundabout way, things were looking peachy – when the pandemic started the Academy changed its rules to make it possible for films that had planned theatre runs (but were forced online by closures) to be eligible for awards. As Hamilton was initially slated for cinematic release in 2021, it may have made the cut.

But, quashing all hopes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reiterated that, in a statement to Vanity Fair, "works 'that are essentially unfiltered records of performances' cannot be considered for nomination." So we guess that's that?

But wait! That's not the end of the story...

As YouTuber Film Theorists point out, the Hamilton film isn't simply an "unfiltered record". As per interviews with Miranda, the Disney Plus recording was created by filming the piece twice in front of audiences, with a further third show and a series of extra sequences then done without any punters to allow the team to get on stage or takes from unconventional angles.

In essence, director Thomas Kail had close-ups, re-shoots, and could generally do what a film director conventionally does. So the definition isn't all that clear cut.

What's more – the Academy's quote is lifted from the Oscar's documentary categories and, well, it would be slightly unconventional to see the show pop up there.

Disney hasn't made any official response to the Academy's statement, but rumblings inside the company hint that they intend to submit the filmed show to as many awards bodies as possible and then leave it up to the discretion of the relevant company.

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton
© 2020 Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nevis Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Have stage plays ever been nominated for Oscars?

A few times – most notably are the 1966 production of Othello and, a decade later, Give Em Hell Harry. Since then the Academy has altered the roles but, what's more, in the last 20 years stand-up films, concert movies and more have all appeared on eligiblity lists – for example Spike Lee's 2000 documentary The Original Kings of Comedy.

Does it even need any Oscars?

Hmmm – the 11 billion dollars the show has reportedly made is probably more than enough to keep most at Hamilton happy (alongside the Tonys, Pulitzers and oodles of other prizes), so Oscar success is perhaps not as coveted as it may be for most films. But you never know with Disney. It would be a big win for their brand new streaming platform in a sea of big players – Netflix, Amazon, HBO Now etc.

What we expect could happen is that the Academy clarifies the rules slightly going forwards – explicitly making mention of stage shows' previous live runs – to iron out some creases.

Oh and, there's always the big-screen version of Miranda's In the Heights coming next year that is already creating a wave of buzz, so that might make up for ''Hamilton's absence this time around.

What about other awards?

Here's the fun thing – the production will be eligible for next year's Emmys (this year's nominees were just announced, with the likes of Andrew Scott listed), but in the "Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)" category. Which sadly won't make it eligible for many other categories, or see any of its stand-out cast pick up prizes.

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