U.S. actors accuse Oscar body of intimidation over awards presenters

LOS ANGELES, Jan 14 - The largest actors union in the United States on Monday accused the organizers of the Oscars of trying to intimidate celebrities not to present at rival award shows.

In an unprecedented statement, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) accused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of "graceless pressure tactics."

The 160,000-member union said it was responding to widespread reports in Hollywood that the Academy was pressuring actors not to appear or present at award ceremonies other than the Oscars, which take place on Feb. 24.

The SAG statement was issued as the Academy is still without a host for the Oscars just six weeks ahead of the ceremony and is looking for big name presenters to draw in viewers.

Organizers of the Oscars, the last in a long round of award shows and red carpets in January and February, are trying to revamp the show after ratings for the most prestigious honors in the movie business hit an all-time low in 2018.

The Academy on Monday did not respond to a request for comment on SAG's statement, which was released two weeks before actors hold their own SAG awards show in Los Angeles on Jan. 26.

SAG said it had received "multiple reports" of pressure from the Academy, as well as experiencing first-hand what it called "attempts to control the awards show talent pipeline."

"The apparent attempt by the Academy to keep our members from presenting on their own awards show is utterly outrageous and unacceptable," SAG said in a statement.

"Actors should be free to accept any offer to participate in industry celebrations," it added, describing the Academy's tactics as "self-serving intimidation."

The Oscars look set to go ahead without a host for only the second time in its 91-year history after comedian Kevin Hart dropped out last month two days after being announced when past anti-gay tweets surfaced. A brief attempt to bring him back, championed by comedian Ellen DeGeneres, failed earlier this month and no replacement has been announced.

The U.S. television audience for the 2018 Oscars hit an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, prompting the Academy to pledge to shorten the show by about 30 minutes to three hours and to hand out some awards during commercial breaks.

Nominations for the 2019 Oscars will be announced on Jan 22.