In a pattern that predates the past year’s reshuffled blockbuster film schedules, the Los Angeles museum had pushed back its opening date multiple times before now finally (for real this time—we hope) landing on this fall, September 30, 2021. So with only about six months to go until its doors open—and even less time before its virtual programming commences—the Academy Museum has now unveiled even more details about what we can expect to see inside.
On Wednesday, the museum streamed a star-studded preview for members of the press that included a Laura Dern-narrated walkthrough of all of the galleries in the Saban Building (the gold-cornered 1939 Streamline Moderne landmark formerly known as the May Company Building) as well as an overview of the screenings we can expect in the appropriately named Sphere Building.
After our virtual preview, these are the five things we’re most looking forward to experiencing in person at the Miracle Mile space.
Taking a deep dive into all aspects of the filmmaking process
The three-floor “Stories of Cinema” is the backbone of the museum, a rotating selection of permanent collection pieces that breaks down cinematography, sound, effects and just about any Academy Awards category you can think of. To start, one of the first galleries you’ll encounter has been split up into six vignettes that each focus on a significant film or artist: Citizen Kane, including the Rosebud sled; Real Women Have Curves, with a focus on its East L.A. filming locations; Thelma Schoonmaker, who’s been Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor for half a century; martial arts icon Bruce Lee; Emmanuel Lubezki, the Mexican cinematographer who’s mastered natural lighting; and Oscar Micheaux, a groundbreaking Black director and producer.
There’s simply so much to see here that all we can do is take a deep breath and gush over some of the things we’re looking forward to: a celebration of The Wizard of Oz; footage of screen tests, like Henry Thomas crying in E.T., and Polaroid casting photos of the likes of Rosie Perez and Debbie Harry; a Skywalker Sound-produced short film that breaks down the sound design in Raiders of the Lost Ark; a space co-curated by international film artists that’ll begin with a 12-screen dissection of the themes in Pedro Almodóvar movies; a 320-degree installation that celebrates outer space by sound designer Ben Burtt (the “voice” of R2-D2 and WALL-E); a room that dives into the musical process that debuts with a focus on Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir; a two-floor examination of the Mt. Rushmore backdrop from North by Northwest (a space that was once poised for an immersive teamLab installation).
And that’s all in addition to the fourth-floor special exhibition space, which opens with a retrospective of legendary Studio Ghibli director and animator Hayao Miyazaki and will be followed by “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971,” which explores nearly a century of contributions from Black artists. Unfortunately, the Academy Museum didn’t have any new details or images to share from either exhibition.
Seeing lots of familiar creatures
In a third-floor gallery dubbed “Encounters,” the Academy Museum has gathered an instantly recognizable assortment of sci-fi characters, including R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars, an H.R. Giger-designed xenomorph head from Alien, a Gremlin and E.T. We should note here that the museum warns that all of the objects on display in renderings are subject to change, so the final lineup could look slightly different. Some other inclusions we spotted: the Amphibian Man from The Shape of Water, Jack Skellington heads from The Nightmare Before Christmas, a Gelfling from The Dark Crystal and Bruce, the sole surviving shark made from the original 25-foot mold for Jaws.
The museum has found ways to bring other sorts of conjured up characters into three dimensions, too: A gallery dedicated to effects contains the facial capture equipment from Avatar, maquettes for the T-1000’s metallic morph in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and a T. Rex input device from Jurassic Park, plus displays dedicated to pioneers like Ray Harryhausen and Georges Méliès. Meanwhile, an animation gallery looks to lean heavily on maquettes and concept images from Disney films (not to mention a Toy Story zoetrope one floor above).
Watching some movies (duh)
Before you can even step foot inside of the museum, a newly-announced batch of virtual programming will kick off in April ahead of the Oscars. On April 22, Jacqueline Stewart, who leads the museum’s programming, will team up with Diane von Furstenberg to host Breaking the Oscars Ceiling, a streaming conversation with women who won milestone Oscars, including Sophia Loren, Whoopi Goldberg, Marlee Matlin and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
After that, the museum will host online screenings and cast and crew Q&As for Pariah and Y tu mamá también, as well as workshops about Miyazaki and Black VFX artists alongside conversations with Hildur Guðnadóttir and Spike Lee (who, on the topic of the educational programs, says “I wanna see yellow school buses double parked in front of the museum” once it’s open).
Speaking of once the museum actually opens, you’ll find daily screenings in the Ted Mann Theater, a 288-seat auditorium underneath the museum. But the standout is clearly the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater, which is housed in the already-recognizable Renzo Piano-designed Sphere Building. The schedule there will be broadly split between shorts during the day and premieres and events at night. Expect a mix of rare prints from the archives and filmmaker retrospectives, plus Oscar-winners on Sundays. The theater is equipped to to show films in digital, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm and even nitrate, and it boasts a 60-person orchestra pit for live scores, too.
Admiring costumes galore
For many visitors, costumes will likely be the thing that really bring the films in the collection out of the silver screen and into the real world; “they see the detail in person, they see all of the hard work” says celebrated costume designer Ruth E. Carter, whose Okoye outfit from Black Panther will be on display. Other highlights include Salma Hayek’s dress from Frida, Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Diana Ross’s Billie Holiday blazer from Lady Sings the Blues, the Dude’s robe ensemble from The Big Lebowski and the flowery May Queen dress from Midsommar, which the museum notably picked up in a charity auction last year for $65,000.
The looks cover real life, too, with a section dedicated to the Academy Awards that includes (in addition to a gold room in the building’s recognizable rotunda that contains 20 statuettes) acceptance speeches and red carpet looks, notably Cher’s 1986 showgirl ensemble.
The Academy’s character-dressing collection transcends just threads: You can expect concept sketches as well as batches of wigs and mustaches. And the museum will examine some of the form’s more heinous history; during a preview presentation, one slide showed a collection of Pan-Cake Make-Up tins that were used for Blackface.
Hearing a narrative that doesn’t erase the more damning moments in the industry’s history
Speaking of those shameful moments in filmmaking, throughout Wednesday’s presentation the museum made clear that it wouldn’t shy away from the racism and sexism in the industry. The animation gallery will recognize the art form’s most troubling histories, including racial stereotypes and and the objectification of women. The Academy itself won’t be free from scrutiny either; the gallery dedicated to the awards ceremony will include areas on #OscarsSoWhite, the campaign that called out the underrepresentation of people of color among Oscar contenders, as well as the mistreatment of women and other marginalized populations (including Gone With the Wind actor Hattie McDaniel, who was seated at a segregated table on the evening she became the first Black person to win an Oscar).
The museum will dedicate a gallery to reflecting on some of those issues, as well as looking forward, too, with displays about Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, labor relations and climate change.
Well, congrats if you’ve made it this far in the story. We don’t have an Oscar to award you, but we do have some more photos of the Academy Museum to admire.