For the last few years, the dominant talking point surrounding the Academy Awards from critics, audiences, historians, and anyone with a pulse has been “inclusion.”
But, guys! Not that kind!
In the Academy’s eyes, it’s those popular movies you all know and love and give $1 billion at the box office that aren’t getting their fair shake.
In a move instantly throttled by a tidal wave of backlash, the Academy announced Wednesday major changes to its telecast. Two are easy to wrap one’s head around, dealing with separate issues surrounding the show and the season’s interminable length: an earlier date for 2020’s ceremony (Feb. 9), and a “more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.”
It’s the third, truly wild decision that’s the real face-palm, a move antithetical to what the Academy is supposed to represent, not to mention the inclusivity work of the last several years: the addition of a new category to honor popular films.
It’s a blatant, though ultimately misguided, play for relevance and ratings—last year’s telecast was the lowest-rated ever—that instead sees the Oscars sacrificing its legitimacy. That trade-off, more than any decline in viewership numbers, is the fastest track to obscurity.
This shiny, sparkly, presumably .GIF-able pandering to the youths will likely be named “The Popcorn Award,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, should you not already have concerns that this decision is a slippery slope to the Oscars becoming The People’s Choice Awards, or the MTV Movie Awards. As The Outline’s Bob Marshall joked on Twitter, “The year is 2025. Stanley Tucci has won the Oscar for Best Kiss.”
It’s such a cynical addition to the ceremony.
There are no details on how the nominees in the category will be chosen and then voted on, but let’s for now translate that Most Popular means Biggest Box Office. As it stands, that means Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, and Deadpool 2 would be the nominees.
Some of those movies are good. Some are not. All are popular. That’s…it. We’re not sure what greater artistic point about filmmaking is being made by awarding one of them this particular Oscar. Yep, those movies you made popular are, indeed, popular. Here’s a trophy.
As a play for relevancy and ratings, it’s a confusing one. How many people are there who will tune in to the Oscars that wouldn’t before just because Deadpool 2 is nominated in one pandering category? More, these stars are already invited to the Oscars, reliably every year, as presenters, presenters whom ABC touts repeatedly in commercials and ads.
It’s not like the stars of these “popcorn movies” also aren’t award-worthy actors. In any given year, the stars of this year’s most popular movies could feasibly already be at the ceremony as an acting nominee: Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s 8), Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther), John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible—Fallout), or any of the Avengers.
What, then, is the promotional value add to this new category?
By the way, typically it’s the producer of a film that gets a trophy, not the pretty people who starred in it. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet weren’t giving acceptance speeches for Titanic, James Cameron was. Guess who produced most of those movies mentioned above? Old white people.
Even the hypotheticals surrounding this new award are concerning. What determines “popular,” for example?
RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and Three Identical Strangers are among the most popular documentaries in decades. Does that qualify them? The word-of-mouth buzz surrounding independent films like Eighth Grade and Sorry to Bother You, which have played in far fewer theaters and have much smaller budgets than superhero films, is massive. Are they popular? Is it up to an online teen vote: Love, Simon? Blockers? Or is it the tastes of the notoriously old, white, male-dominated Oscar voters who determine popularity, in which case congrats to whatever movie Clint Eastwood farts out.
You’ll likely notice the lack of diversity in most of these movies, an institutionalized problem that the Academy has made bold, admirable strides to combat, but which this category exacerbates.
Yes, this year Black Panther was a box office smash. Any previous year a “Most Popular” movie category would be as white-washed as any of the notorious #OscarsSoWhite ceremonies. One point of the push for inclusion is for the Academy to nominate and champion diverse works and perspectives that had been ignored because of the monolithic makeup of its voting body. This category arguably diminishes the worth of that initiative, reverting back to mainstream industry tastes that still have inexcusable lags in inclusivity.
By the way, the Academy doesn’t need this category to nominate popular films. Voters already do that—wait for it—when the movie deserves it! Last year, Dunkirk and Get Out were nominated for Best Picture. In 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road. American Sniper in 2014. Gravity the year before that. Superhero movies are fun. Fun movies are worth seeing. That doesn’t mean that they also deserve Academy Awards.
Yes, yes. We know it’s one award and might not seem worth all of this bitching. But it is worth it, because of what this award represents.
The announcement of a goal to streamline a three-hour telecast included the addendum that this means siphoning several lower-tier awards—the “pee-break categories,” as some like to joke—to commercial breaks, the highlights of which will be edited into the show somehow. We’ve always taken issue with people griping that the Oscars telecast airs too many awards, as this is an award show. Who would complain that the Super Bowl airs too much football?
To that end, this move to presumably sideline the categories that honor the craft, like sound, editing, or effects, to make room for one that rewards popularity is an upsetting statement. The most significant film awards in the industry, the one with the largest reach and most cultural influence, is deciding that championing the craft is no longer the priority.
But congrats to the 12th installment of The Fast and the Furious on its future Oscar.