The home of Hong Kong’s Academy Awards telecast for more than 50 years will not be broadcasting this year’s Oscars amid reported calls by Beijing for mainland media to either boycott or downplay the glitzy celebration of the global film industry.
But Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), which has aired the show on its English-language channel Pearl, has maintained the decision was a “purely commercial” one, saying it simply chose not to acquire the broadcasting rights this year.
As of Monday evening, representatives of RTHK, Viu TV, Now TV, i-Cable and Open TV said they had not stepped in to acquire local broadcast rights for this year’s Oscars, set to air on April 26 at 8am local time.
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Beijing reportedly told mainland Chinese media earlier this month not to transmit live coverage of the US-based awards ceremony following the nomination of Do Not Split, a 35-minute documentary about the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and remarks made by Beijing-born director Chloe Zhao that were deemed controversial by Chinese internet users.
Zhao was nominated in the best director category for the US-based drama Nomadland.
In a reply to the Post, a TVB spokesman said: “It was purely a commercial decision that we decided not to pursue the Oscars this year.”
According to the broadcaster’s annual reports, Pearl had been “bringing the world’s most glamorous Hollywood event, the Oscars” to Hongkongers since the channel’s launch in 1969.
“Pearl is the exclusive broadcaster of the glamorous Hollywood event the Oscars in Hong Kong,” the company said in its 2019 annual report.
The Post has contacted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seeking comment.
Earlier this month, Beijing mouthpiece Global Times published an article citing film industry observers who argued Do Not Split, nominated for best documentary (short subject), should not win as “it lacks artistry and is full of biased political stances”.
“Do not split” was a phrase adopted by protesters during the 2019 anti-government demonstrations meant to encourage those in the movement to present a unified front regardless of whether they supported radical or more peaceful means.
Earlier in the month, Do Not Split’s Norwegian director, Anders Hammer, hit back at Beijing’s alleged muzzling of the Oscars on the mainland, saying he was not surprised by the alleged censorship after having witnessed “how freedom of speech and freedom of the press is being drastically reduced in Hong Kong”.
Zhao’s Nomadland, which is nominated in six categories, including best picture, is centred on a soul-searching journey across the US by a widow played by Frances McDormand. Chinese netizens took issue with a remark Zhao made during an interview in 2013, in which she said her childhood on the mainland was filled with “lies everywhere”.
It is not the first time Beijing has targeted a film festival. In 2019, the mainland movie industry pulled out of the annual Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards – also dubbed the “Chinese-language Oscars” – amid increasing cross-strait tensions at the behest of Beijing’s film industry administrators.