Why Wasn’t Rachel Zegler Invited to the Oscars?

Rachel Zegler’s face will be all over the Oscars telecast this weekend: as the co-lead of West Side Story, she’ll appear in ads, montages, and posters. But as of now, Zegler won’t be there in person: she wrote on Instagram that she wasn’t even invited to the ceremony. “I have tried it all but it doesn’t seem to be happening,” she wrote.

On social media, there was a wave of amazement at her post. “How could the star of one of most popular films of all time not get a ticket?” Zegler’s predicament is a function of both an unusual year and a long history of intense competition and internal politics revolving around Hollywood’s biggest night. A year-round process fraught with backdoor transactions and hurt emotions has been made worse by the ever-lingering epidemic.

The Oscars invite process is overseen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) Membership and Awards team, which works to fill each seat of the Dolby Theater’s 3,300 capacity. Social distancing will see only 2,600 to 2,500 of these seats filled each year. In order to promote social distancing, the audience will be asked for proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus as well. The 800-seat shortfall means ticket allotments across the board are constrained. Academy members may no longer sign up for the lottery to win a ticket.

The first invites go to the nominees themselves, who get a pair of tickets for each nomination they’ve received. Jane Campion, for instance, is nominated three times—for writing, directing, and producing Power of the Dog—so she gets six tickets. With regards to Best Picture nominations, the only people from those movies who get individual invites from the Academy itself are the producers listed on the Academy’s website. You can find more information here. West Side StoryThat would be Steven Spielberg, Kristie Mcosko Krieger, and all their plus-ones.

Given that there are approximately 216 individual nominees this year, that’s about 432 tickets gone right off the bat. Then each presenter and performer gets a pair, as do various other related entities: slots for the show’s broadcast network ABC, the telecast’s sponsors, the production team, and media.

After that, the Academy cleans its hands of the decision-making process by handing out to each studio blocks of tickets that are roughly proportional to the nominations they’ve received. (In a 2018 Los Angeles TimesArticle, but indie studios claim that big studios sometimes receive more tickets then they are mathematically entitled. This year, Disney has a slew of nominations across its subsidiaries—including for West Side Story, Nightmare Alley Tammy Faye: The Eyes—so it would have the opportunity to invite cast and production members from each of those productions as they see fit. This block could also be used to invite executives and other important figures within the company.

Zegler wasn’t chosen by Disney, however. Disney representatives did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

A similar scandal erupted six years ago when the casting for Straight Outta Compton, which depicts the rise of the rap group N.W.A., did not receive invites to the ceremony; only the film’s white writers who were nominated for Best Original Screenplay were invited. At the time, an Academy spokesperson deflected responsibility: “The Academy invites the nominees only, and each studio gets a limited ticket allotment, based on the number of nominated films, to use at their discretion. It has been this way for decades,” the spokesperson told People.

While the Oscars are rapidly approaching, there is increasing competition for tickets. In response to critics of its inequalities, the AMPAS has seen a significant increase in membership over the past few years. It now boasts approximately 9,400 members, more than 3,000 more than five years ago. For Academy members, it was difficult to obtain seats. Rosie Perez for instance, who received her Oscar nomination in 1994, complained about being unable to go to the Oscars. So whether or not Disney changes its mind and puts Zegler in the front row, it’s likely that these sorts of skirmishes will continue to play out in the years to come.

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