Oscar-Snubbed Docs Get Renewed Shot At Glory With Emmy Nominations

Emmy nominations in the doc categories are giving films passed over by the Oscars a shot at some trophies of their own.

Dick Johnson Is Dead, directed by Kirsten Johnson, 76 Days, from director Hao Wu, and Welcome to Chechnya, directed by David France, earned nominations in the juried category of Outstanding Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. Each of those films had made the Oscar Documentary Feature shortlist earlier in the year, but didn’t earn Oscar nominations.

The nod to 76 Days, a film set in hospitals in Wuhan, China during the city’s initial lockdown after the outbreak of Covid-19, marks the first Emmy nomination for MTV Documentary Films, the division headed by Sheila Nevins.

“It’s a great honor to be nominated for an Emmy,” Wu said in a statement to Deadline. “As we’re still reeling from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sincerely hope that the film can remind viewers of hope, of the necessity for collective action, and of our shared humanity, in our current fight against the virus.”

The TV Academy changed its rules this year to make any documentary that earns an Oscar-nomination ineligible for Emmy consideration. Next year, the rule becomes more restrictive—no documentary or film uploaded to the Oscar viewing portal will be deemed eligible for Emmy consideration.

Another film that made the Oscar shortlist but didn’t make the Academy Award final cut also earned Emmy recognition today, in the category of Outstanding Documentary of Nonfiction Special: Boys State, from director-producers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine. That category features four other contenders: The Social Dilemma [Netflix], The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart [HBO]; Tina, the HBO documentary about Tina Turner, and Framing Britney Spears, the documentary that aired as part of the FX series The New York Times Presents.

The Spears film explores the controversy around the pop singer’s conservatorship, and the way the media depicted her when she was struggling in the early aughts with apparent mental health issues.

“I was floored and humbled and grateful and also happy that the whole team is recognized,” co-EP and writer Liz Day told Deadline, “because there was so much hard work put in by so many different people in making this documentary, including sources and people who helped tell the truth and to help us tell the story.”

In another of the prestige categories–Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series–Allen v. Farrow earned a nomination, one of seven nods it picked up today. The four-part HBO series, investigating Dylan Farrow’s allegations of sexual abuse by her adoptive father Woody Allen, will go up against Pretend It’s a City, the Netflix docuseries directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Fran Lebowitz; NatGeo’s City So Real, directed by Steve James; American Masters, the veteran PBS series, and Secrets of the Whales, from Disney+. The Whales series earned Emmy recognition for some big fish: executive producer James Cameron, and a narration nomination for Sigourney Weaver.

Music docs got some love from Emmy nomination voters, between the Bee Gees film, Tina, and Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry—the latter Apple TV+ doc earned noms for picture editing, sound editing, sound mixing and music direction. But in the major categories, true crime was shut out. HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was among the many true crime series and films that didn’t earn recognition.

The documentary categories will be presented at the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on a date to be announced by the Television Academy (most likely the weekend of September 11-12). The Creative Arts ceremony will be televised on FXX on Saturday, September 18, the day before the PrimeTime Emmys are broadcast on CBS.

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