HOLLYWOOD — Despite receiving awards from several film festivals and from Planned Parenthood, absent from the 2021 Academy Awards was the film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a fictional picture which follows a 17-year-old girl as she travels from Pennsylvania to New York to obtain an abortion.
This past March, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences— the nationwide body that votes for the Oscars— declined to watch it, drawing public ire from the pro-choice filmmaker who created it.
The film was inspired by news stories of women traveling from areas with more restrictive abortion laws to areas with more permissive laws, the director claimed.
The film has drawn praise from abortion advocates, with director Eliza Hittman awarded the 2020 “Media Excellence Award” from Planned Parenthood.
However, when asked via email by Hittman’s publicist if he had seen the film yet, filmmaker and Academy member Kieth Merrill replied that he was not interested in watching it, citing his Christian and pro-life beliefs.
“For me, there is nothing entertaining or inspiring about killing unborn babies. I chose not to watch [Hittman]’s film because it legitimizes abortion,” Merrill said when asked by Variety about his decision.
“Her film is an expression of who she is. My absence of interest in watching her film is an expression of who I am.”
At the time, Hittman, the film’s director, took to Instagram to denounce Merrill for declining to watch her film and consider it for an Oscar.
“This email came in last night and was a harsh reminder that the Academy is still so painfully monopolized by an old white puritanical male guard. I wonder how many other voters out there won’t watch the film,” Hittman wrote in a now-deleted post.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always did not ultimately receive any Oscar nominations.
The Academy has nearly 10,000 members, all of whom are eligible to vote for Best Picture.
Members are not required to watch every film that qualifies for the Oscars, but are encouraged to watch as many as possible, Variety reported. Voting ended March 10, and some 360 films were in the running for Best Picture this year.
Merrill has been a member of the Academy for nearly 50 years, having won an Oscar in 1973 for the documentary, The Great American Cowboy.
A father of eight and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he has produced films in the past for the Mormon church, a nontrinitarian religion founded in the 19th century in New York.
Hittman has said that in researching her film, she visited Planned Parenthood facilities throughout the country, and pretended to be a pregnant woman in need of aid in order to gain access to pro-life pregnancy centers.
“Abortion tourism,” the topic of the film, is common in the United States as some states move to restrict abortion, while others seek to liberalize it.
TV ratings for this year’s Oscars ceremony on April 25 were the lowest in the event’s history, with viewership dipping below 10 million for the first time, Deadline reported.
The New York Times called the ceremony, held in Los Angeles’ Union Station, “one of the odder Oscar nights in memory.” The telecast did not feature a host, showed fewer clips from nominated films than in previous years, and received criticism for rushing the In Memoriam segment.
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville tweeted, “I turned on the Oscars for about 4 minutes. Horrible. I used to enjoy Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. Now it seems, there are a bunch of dysfunctional people who have lost all sense of morality thinking they have the right to tell others how to live. No wonder our nation is dysfunctional. Who cares what they think? Movies are filled with violence, immorality, confusion and the list goes on. By the way, I decided to read instead and listen to some jazz.”
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, starring Francis McDormand, took home the statuette for Best Picture, and Zhao the award for best director. Deacon Stephen Greydanus of the National Catholic Register has called Nomadland “one of the best films of 2020.”