Academy To Restore ‘20 Days In Mariupol’s Win To Shortened Version Of Oscar Show Sent To Global Broadcasters After Ukraine Outrage Over Omission

Academy To Restore ‘20 Days In Mariupol’s Win To Shortened Version Of Oscar Show Sent To Global Broadcasters After Ukraine Outrage Over Omission

EXCLUSIVE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans to recut the 90-minute version of the Oscars broadcast it provided to international licensees, Deadline has learned, in order to restore a key moment it had left out of the original package: the Best Documentary Feature category won by the Ukraine war-themed film 20 Days in Mariupol.

Deadline has learned the move comes after Suspilne TV, the broadcaster that holds rights to air the Oscar show in Ukraine, protested the omission of the category from the 90-minute version, saying it was “shocked and deeply disappointed” by the decision that also left the moving acceptance speech by Ukrainian filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov on the cutting-room floor.

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In that speech, Chernov mourned the devastating loss of civilian life that has resulted from Russia’s invasion and urged the film community to ensure “the history record is set straight, and that the truth will prevail and that the people of Mariupol and those who have given their lives will never be forgotten.”

(L-R) Producer Raney Aronson-Rath, director Mstyslav Chernov, and producer Michelle Mizner in the press room of the Academy Awards.
(L-R) Producer Raney Aronson-Rath, director Mstyslav Chernov and on Sunday at the Oscars

Suspilne TV aired the Oscar show live in Ukraine as part of its agreement with Disney, which handles global licensing of the show on behalf of the Academy (the Academy is responsible for the content of the telecast — both the full-length version and the 90-minute cutdown). Owing to the time difference between the U.S. and Ukraine, the Oscar telecast began at 1 a.m. local time and ended at about 4:30 a.m., limiting the number of people awake to see it. Suspilne had planned to broadcast the 90-minute version in primetime Monday evening, but promptly got in touch with Disney after discovering the Best Documentary category – and Chernov’s remarks – were missing.

“Our team was shocked and deeply disappointed when we did not see the category for Best Feature Documentary in the international version, where 20 Days in Mariupol was justly awarded,” Lukian Halkin, executive producer of Suspilne Kultura TV channel, was quoted as saying in an article posted Monday on the Suspilne website. “Mstyslav Chernov’s powerful speech emphasized the unity between Ukraine and the world, which makes it all the more disappointing to see this episode full of truth and power excluded from the version distributed to the Oscar’s global licensees.”

Yulia Navalnaya addresses the audience at the 95th Oscars.
Yulia Navalnaya addresses the audience at the 95th Oscars.

Deadline spoke with Halkin, who reiterated his alarm over the omission. He said it was particularly glaring because the 90-minute cutdown version of last year’s Oscars did include the Best Documentary Feature category, which went to Navalny, the film about imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In an emotional highlight of that telecast, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, took the stage with filmmaker Daniel Roher and implicitly denounced the Kremlin. “My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” Navalnaya said. “My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I’m dreaming of the day when you will be free, and our country will be free. Stay strong.”

Halkin told Deadline, “Here’s the bold fact: last year’s Documentary Category was included in the 90-minute International Version, as was Yulia Navalnaya’s political speech. I don’t really believe that Disney plans the script of the 90-minute version without taking into account the predictions of the winners — it sounds unconvincing for the high-performing show. 20 Days in Mariupol is not only an outstanding documentary, its unique testimony about Russian crimes, and the whole team literally risked their lives to film it. That is why it seems extremely important to have this historic event and the historic speech of Mstyslav Chernov in all versions.”

Suspilne Ukraine logo
Suspilne Ukraine logo

Halkin told us Suspilne viewers took to social media after learning of the omission of 20 Days in Mariupol‘s win from the truncated Oscar show. He described their reaction as “furious and hurt,” telling Deadline, “As a public service broadcaster, we have their interests at heart, and that was the main reason for communicating quickly and honestly [to Disney] about what had happened.”

The National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine also sent a sharply worded statement of protest over the Documentary Feature omission. In a letter obtained by Deadline that was addressed to Disney CEO Bob Iger and chairman of the board Mark Parker, the council wrote, “Today, all democracies in the world are looking for any opportunity to resist military aggression that poses a threat to the peaceful world order. At this point, your staff decides to remove the fragment of the Ceremony where journalists receive the Prize for a full-length documentary film that talks about the horrors of war! … It [is] difficult for us to believe that such a decision by the studio staff would be a politically motivated decision agreed by the company’s management.”

The letter continued, “We ask you to create and distribute to broadcasters an updated international version, in which the fragment with the nomination ‘Best Documentary Feature’ will be preserved.”

It seems the Academy has agreed. All of the Oscars’ global licensees will receive the updated version, we understand from sources — not just Ukraine’s Suspilne TV.

The cast of Oppenheimer reacts to Best Picture during the live telecast of the 96th Annual Academy Awards in Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, CA, Sunday, March 10, 2024.
The 96th Annual Academy Awards

Carving a 90-minute version out of a three-and-a-half-hour long telecast means some categories have to be dropped; typically, about 12-15 of the live show’s 23 categories make the cut. We understand the Academy, in consultation with show producers, made the decision on what categories to leave out after the Oscar nominations were announced but before Sunday’s live show. One can question — as Suspilne TV’s Halkin has — the wisdom of dropping Best Documentary Feature because all five of the nominees in that category dealt with international themes and an international audience could be expected to want to see who won. What’s more, 20 Days in Mariupol — which tells the story of the siege of the Ukrainian port city and the annihilation of civilians by Russian forces — came into the night a solid favorite to win, so as Halkin suggested, the Academy and show producers planning the cutdown version could have foreseen the potential for that category to yield a compelling moment.

A clip of late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is played onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024.
A clip of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is played onstage during Sunday’s Oscars

There is no indication the omission of Best Documentary Feature was made for political reasons, only timing ones (the 90-minute versions of the show from 2018-2022 also did not include Best Doc Feature). And, in fact, Sunday’s live telecast paid heed to the memory of Alexei Navalny, who died last month in a Russian Arctic prison; his passing was noted as the show introduced its In Memoriam package.

Global licensees always have the option of airing the full version of the show; they are not mandated to broadcast the 90-minute cutdown. However, under the licensing agreement, a global broadcaster cannot make unilateral changes to the 90-minute cutdown supplied by the Academy. Halkin of Suspilne TV tells Deadline that his station, after discovering the Best Documentary Feature category was missing from the cutdown, made the choice to re-air the full version of the show for Ukrainian viewers. (In case you’re wondering, Russia does not license the Academy Awards, so no broadcasters in that country aired the telecast, the win for 20 Days in Mariupol or Chernov’s speech).

Deadline has reached out to Chernov for his reaction to the Academy’s initial choice to omit Best Documentary Feature. If we hear back, we will update you.

'20 Days in Mariupol'
’20 Days in Mariupol’

Chernov, a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, and his team faced enormous risk as they documented the destruction of Mariupol and the immense loss of life in Russia’s relentless shelling and bombing of civilian targets. In his Oscar acceptance speech, a solemn Chernov contrasted his emotions with the joy usually witnessed in winners of Academy Awards.

“I’m honored, but probably I will be the first director on the [Oscar] stage who will say, I wish I would never make this film. I wish to be able to exchange this [for] Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities,” Chernov said in the live telecast. He continued, “I wish to give all the recognition to Russia not killing tens of thousands of my fellow Ukrainians. I wish for them to release all the hostages, all the soldiers who are protecting their lands, all the civilians who are now in their jails. But I cannot change the history, cannot change the past. But we all together, among you, some of the most talented people in the world, we can make sure that the history record is set straight, and that the truth will prevail and that the people of Mariupol and those who have given their lives will never be forgotten. Because cinema forms memories, and memories form history. So, thank you all and thank you all. Thank you, Ukraine, Slava Ukraini [Glory to Ukraine].”

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