Remodeling the Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences notoriously tends to operate on a mental blueprint that often rejects the quality, worth and validity of blockbuster and genre films. 

Last Wednesday’s announcement that the Academy would be implementing several changes — among them, the addition of an award centered around popular film — came as a surprise on several levels. 

The news has since been met with plenty of controversy, much of which stems from its ambiguity. The official title and criteria of the award remains unknown, and the Academy's tweet revealed only that it is "designed around achievement in popular film."

General speculation on Twitter has led people to believe the award will crown a 'Best Popular Film' for the year, akin to the award for Best Animated Picture, which was introduced in 2001. 

With few available details about the method of determining which picture qualifies in the new category, theories range from box-office revenue to popular vote. Allowing ticket sales to determine the winning picture would deliver the purest result, as it would award the film most viewed numerically. 

However, it’s difficult to imagine the Academy going by the box-office numbers, considering the winner would be long predetermined and made public knowledge well in advance of the Oscars.

Alongside unclear criteria, “popular film” gives the idea that “popular” films can’t or shouldn’t be considered the best picture, and that arthouse films and critical darlings can’t or shouldn’t become popular. 

This dangerous idea weakens the value and capability of the films and seems sadly in-character for an organization that is supposed to honor and celebrate cinematic arts. Furthermore, critics of the Academy’s decision to isolate popular films claim that the separation acts as a schismatic way to integrate blockbuster movies into their programming — for both viewership and sociocultural purposes — without seriously awarding them any legitimacy. 

As recent pushes for awards representation of groundbreaking work in blockbuster films such as "Wonder Woman" and "Black Panther" have grown more prominent and aggressive, the high-strung Academy feels forced to represent such films in some way, lest they risk experiencing mass backlash in the same vein as the #OscarsSoWhite movement, which originated in 2015. 

Despite "Black Panther's" surefire inclusion in the new category’s nominee lineup, pundits and casual viewers alike see the move as the Academy’s attempt to exile the film to peripheral status and sidestep the likely heavy criticism that would arise if the movie were excluded from award nominations altogether.

Taken with a grain of salt, the addition of the potential Best Popular Film category allows the Academy to continue to ignore the intricacy and cultural validity of popular films and reserve the title of Best Picture for films that fail to spark mass public interest. Sugar coated, it’s a move that will drastically open up awards representation for popular pictures.

The Academy also announced that it will be shortening the Oscars broadcast to a strict three-hour window, filming a handful of currently undetermined awards during commercial and editing them for playback later in the program. Additionally, beginning in 2020, the broadcast’s airing date will move to early February, nearly a month ahead of 2019’s February 23 broadcast. 

In reality, these changes are simply variables in a grander design — theoretically, the inclusion of popular movies draws in mass interest, a shorter runtime increases program longevity and an earlier airing date eliminates predictability. 

Put them together, and the Academy has a potential equation for higher viewership. Even with these adjustments, however, the Oscars could suffer a deep backlash, depending on how the Best Popular Film award is handled in the future — and make no mistake, the Academy’s new blueprint has little to do with remodeling the ideological infrastructure and a lot to do with erecting a more attractive and profitable facade.

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