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The popularity and prestige of the Oscars seems to have been stagnating for years now. With viewing figures steadily reducing, diversity issues like the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of 2016, and the only people who still care being critics and award recipients, their relevancy in the popular conscience has reduced to who wore what on the red carpet. Even those who go as far as to watch the awards live tend to spend more time arguing about what should have won and how absurd the judging process must be rather than ruminating on how the awards were fairly given and received. Therefore, it’s understandable that the Academy would want to make the awards more interesting to the average filmgoer, as well as provide itself with more clear ties to the movie mainstream.
Since its announcement on the 8th of August, it’s fair to say that the new ‘Achievement in Popular Film’ award at the Oscars was not at all popular amongst critics and other professionals in the industry. Arriving alongside other changes like a shorter ceremony broadcast that comes to three hours rather than four, it certainly seems as though the Academy are attempting to make the Oscars more appealing to a wider audience. Unfortunately, to me and many others, these attempts come across as misguided at best and pandering at worst.
The most obvious comparison to make between this award and another is the prestigious Best Picture, which over the past decade has rarely if ever featured any of the top grossing films of that year. This new award will then presumably seek to cover those films left out of the Best Picture category that were still seen by huge swathes of people, such as big budget franchise successes like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Mission Impossible: Fallout. But by separating these films out, the Academy are simultaneously devaluing both categories. Best Picture will be full of ‘artsy’ independent films that many will no longer feel encouraged to see, and Achievement in Popular Film will seem like a consolation prize for movies not actually good enough to win what most see as the main event.
Of all the aforementioned movies, it is the most suspicious that this new award would be established a few months following the incredible success of Black Panther. Having received an incredible Rotten Tomatoes score of 97% due to its unanimous praise, numerous critics have referenced it as a film that could break the barrier that superhero movies still face in terms of awards recognition. Placing it in a far less established and undeniably less prestigious category based on its $700 million worldwide gross would heavily imply that movies in this genre will never be able to truly break through, and could also understandably bring up the idea that racism lies behind the decision. After all, the Academy is still predominantly older white men, and issues of racial diversity have certainly come up before.
The new award was announced to make the Oscars more relatable to a general audience, but has only signalled that the Academy are more out of touch than ever.