The Oscars will finally start giving out trophies to movies most people have actually seen, which means, yes, a superhero or sci-fi movie you loved might finally get an Academy Award that doesn’t have to do with make-up or special effects. But there’s a catch, the way a Marvel or Star Wars movie will get nominated, and win the Best Picture Oscar is because blockbusters will be competing in a new category; Best Popular Film. It’s good-ish news for people who care about big movies winning meaningless trophies, but more obviously, it seems like a very transparent way for the Academy to give Black Panther an award without really giving it an award.
On Wednesday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced, among other things, the creation of a new category: Best Popular Film. According to the Academy, this is what this all means:
While the details for a popular film category are still being finalized, a single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture. The new category will be introduced this coming year, at the 91st Oscars. In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films.
So, this is clearly code for the idea that Black Panther — a movie which broke a lot of box office records, but was socially and politically relevant, too — will probably get nominated for both Best Picture and Best Popular Film, but only win in the new category, allowing the Oscars to have its populist cake and eat its art-house cinema cake, too. All around the internet, most pundits and film critics have caught-on to what seems like an obvious ploy, and a pandering, possibly racist one at that.
Just give Black Panther 'Best Picture' you cowards. https://t.co/RZFnKlyvQW
— Dan Olson (@FoldableHuman) August 8, 2018
It truly is something that in the year Black Panther, a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy's reaction is, "We need to invent something separate…but equal."
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) August 8, 2018
So, in the short term, it looks like the Academy thinks it’s doing a nice thing for average joes who don’t know about all the snobby movies that get nominated, but really, this is just a huge ratings ploy designed to get said average joes (like me, maybe like you) to tune in.
Because even if you’re offended that the Oscars wouldn’t just have the guts to nominate a Marvel movie for Best Picture, and instead relegate it to the category of Best Popular Film, the chances of you tuning in to see the movies in this new category duke it out just got higher. In fact, you could even argue that in a decade, everyone will have forgotten the Black Panther controversy, and the Best Popular Film category could become really interesting, generating everything from heated discussions in living rooms, to profitable betting polls in bars. To date, only one huge nerd movie has won best picture: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Famously in 1978, the original Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to Annie Hall. (How much does everyone in the Academy regret that decision now?)
So, in a way, the new Oscar category makes cynical sense. The Academy knows they can’t make millions of people happy with the movies they select for the award nominations, but they did just figure out a way to make those millions of people suddenly tune in and care about the Oscars again. Will we still be mad about this in twenty years? It might all depend on which other movies get nominated. In fact, though the current buzz around the new Oscar category is centered on Black Panther, everyone might be forgetting about the most recent Star Wars film, Solo. After all, if there’s anything the Oscars have always loved its movies that get great reviews and don’t make a lot of money. Just like Solo: A Star Wars Story, another obvious contender for Best Popular Film.
The 91st Academy Awards — complete with the new Best Popular Film category — will air on Sunday, February 24, 2019.