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EDITORIAL: The Academy is correct in postponing 'popular film' category at Oscars

The Academy has decided to postpone the introduction of a new "outstanding achievement in popular film" category at the Oscars after a lot of backlash.

The Oscars have been declining in popularity, and the most recent awards show was the least-watched in history with only 26.5 million viewers. This is a 19 percent decrease from the previous year.

Introducing a popular film category was undoubtedly a way to bring in more viewers, namely audiences of popular films and big blockbusters. But this kind of award is the wrong way to honor and appreciate cinema.

The "best picture" award is the biggest award of the Oscars and one of the most important and coveted achievements in film. While the nominees and winners naturally bring about arguments every year, it is obvious that every film nominated for this category are strong contenders and honorable achievements in the art of cinema. The past few years of best picture winners have celebrated a wide range of amazing films, including "The Shape of Water," "Moonlight," "Spotlight" and "12 Years a Slave."

While the implementation and voting process surrounding the popular film category were unclear, if a new category were to honor achievement in popular film, it seems like the nominees would be split into two categories: popular blockbusters and artistic, independent cinema. The problem with this is that just because a film is popular doesn't mean it isn't good or worthy of the best picture award.

Many popular blockbusters have won or been nominated for the best picture award. For example, the popular franchise film "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won the award in 2003.

There have been many popular blockbusters premiere in 2018 with high ratings, namely "Black Panther," which earned a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and $1.3 billion worldwide at the box office. Marvel films are not typically known as masterful pieces of cinema, but "Black Panther" was different with its exciting, well-written plot and compelling, complex characters.

"Black Panther" is no doubt a strong contender for the 2018 best picture award. Star Chadwick Boseman told The Hollywood Reporter, "What I can say is that there's no campaign for popular film; like, if there's a campaign, it's for best picture, and that's all there is to it."

In the same interview, he said, "A good movie is a good movie," which is the entire crux of the argument.

While it is possible that "Black Panther" could have been nominated in both best picture and popular film categories, it is possible that given the option, Academy voters will push it only to the popular film category instead of best picture.

This is especially true given the racist past of Academy voters. Last year, regarding "Get Out," a voter said to the Hollywood Reporter, "As far as I’m concerned, they played the race card, and that really turned me off." The voter said, "They’re trying to make me think that if I don’t vote for this movie, I’m a racist. I was really offended. That sealed it for me."

It is incredibly suspicious and dishonest to say that all of the success of "Get Out" came from "playing the race card". It was a beautifully-crafted film and a masterful spin on the horror genre, with an important underlying message about racism. It can only be assumed that this voter might go on to say that "Black Panther" is "playing the race card" as well, and limit it only to the popular film category.

Another important aspect of analyzing the popular film debacle is that, if the criteria for being a "popular film" is being successful at the box office, then many past best picture winners are already incredibly popular films. Last year, one of the highest grossing films was "Dunkirk," which brought in about $527 million worldwide. It was also nominated for best picture. The same can be said for "Get Out," which grossed about $255 million worldwide. 

"The Shape of Water," the best picture winner of 2017, brought in $195 million worldwide. While it was only the 48th highest grossing film, this is still no small feat, and shows that what can be called "high cinema" still attracts a large audience.

The heart of the issue is that film is an incredibly complex and diverse art form, and there is no singular way for a film to be "good". Any film can be the best picture of the year, whether it be a high-grossing powerhouse superhero film or a small independent art film. The Academy is correct in postponing the popular film category, and hopefully they decide to never bring it back, because it creates a dishonest divide in the appreciation of film.

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