Opinion: Why didn't Rachel Zegler get an Oscars invite in the first place?
The Academy's snub of a Latina actor is quite concerning, says Hanna Flint
Friday 25 March 2022 By Hanna Flint
As we head into Oscars® weekend, the surrounding drama has not abated and may just prove to be more entertaining than the ceremony itself. Host Amy Schumer managed to out-Schumer herself with her recent revelation that she had pitched to get Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to Skype in and say a friendly hello to Hollywood’s gathered glitterati. ‘I wanted to find a way to have him satellite in or make a tape just because there are so many eyes on the Oscars,’ she told Drew Barrymore on her talk show. ‘I am not afraid to go there, but it’s not me producing the Oscars.’
So, so brave, Amy, but given Zelensky is dealing with a literal warzone, I think he might already be booked. And really, in light of the telecast’s dwindling ratings, the audience probably doesn’t need to get this widely known political messaging from an awards show.
While the Ukrainian president was an odd choice for an invite, the lack thereof for the lead of West Side Story was even odder. Rachel Zegler, who reprised the role of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the 1961 musical classic, was not granted a seat at Sunday’s ceremony, despite the fact the film earnt seven nominations, including Best Picture.
The actress revealed the snub on Instagram, in a response to a question about her potential Oscars® dress: ‘I wasn’t invited so sweatpants and my boyfriend’s flannel... I hope some last-minute miracle occurs and I can celebrate our film in person but hey, that’s how it goes sometimes, I guess. Thanks for all the shock and outrage – I’m disappointed, too.’
As soon as I read this, the voice of Damian from Mean Girls delivering Candy Cane Grams, whispered in my mind, ‘None for Rachel Zegler.’ The reality is, not everyone who takes part in an Oscar®-nominated movie is guaranteed an invite. The Academy dishes out a number of invites to the nominees and guests, around 800, as well as various studios, supposedly, proportionate to the nominations their films might receive.
Then there are seats reserved for sponsors, ABC, the production team, PWC accountants, media, donors, and random high-profile people in the area. The Dolby Theatre seats 3,400 people, so when they say the Oscars® is the hottest ticket in town, they ain’t lying. But Zegler is the lead in a film championed for its improved representation for the Latin-American community, so the fact that neither Disney nor The Academy made room for her attendance is ‘qwhite’ concerning.
The actress is in London currently shooting the live-action remake of Snow White, so the mouse house might have been thinking, ‘this girl has work commitments.’ But after the social media uproar that included the original Riff, Russ Tamblyn, ready to dance fight for her right to go, and the subsequent ‘WTF is Tony Hawks, Kelly Slater, and Shaun White doing on the presenter list’ response, public opinion proved too, erm, gnarly for the organisers to surf and strings were pulled, so Snow White could go to the ball.
Zegler was announced as part of the sixth slate of presenters; the last on the list, though not because she was a panicked last-minute addition, but because it was in alphabetical order. ‘Well folks, I can’t believe I’m saying this but... see you on Sunday. The absolutely incredible team at Disney and our Snow White producers worked some real-life magic,’ she tweeted. ‘It’s not lost on me that being able to shoot a film, the scale of Snow White, during COVID is not easy, and any adjustment to our schedule is no small sacrifice.’
The petty drama queen in me would have loved if her response had been ‘I’m good, actually’ for the initial disrespect. Oh, now you invited her? OK. Alright. I see you, The Academy. But as she’s only 20, I’m happy she’s got what she wanted and isn’t jaded enough to turn it down. She’s got more than enough time to develop some Hollywood grudges, and so I’ll be cheering her on from home in sweatpants and my boyfriend’s flannel.
CODA to hell, haters
It seems the villain of this year’s Best Picture race is not the unbearable Don't Look Up, but the rather lovely coming-of-age film, CODA. Sian Heder’s second feature, about a hearing teen daughter in a deaf family wanting to pursue music, has been doing rather well on the awards front and that has angered a subset of film critics and commentators who do not think it has the quality to justify a potential big Oscar® win.
I’m a bit confused by the vitriol: it’s feel-good, dramedy tone is not unlike what’s on display in Jerry Maguire, a movie I adore, which was nominated for Best Picture in 1996, or Shakespeare In Love which won Best Picture in 1999. Just because the film leans heavily into saccharine territory, it doesn’t mean it’s artistically empty.
The performances, including Troy Kotsur’s Oscar®-nominated turn, all have merit – as does the film’s representation of deaf actors, which hasn’t been lauded on this platform since its star Marlee Matlin won her Oscar® for Children Of A Lesser God in 1987. And anything that includes a Joni Mitchell cover will always rank highly with me, so I’m saying good luck to them.