A new category is coming to the Oscars, and it's one that could shake up business-as-usual when it comes to Best Picture.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors met Tuesday, August 7, to vote on the new category, "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film." Also proposed is the nixing of live awards presentations of some of the technical categories.
The move comes at the behest of ABC, which wants to increase the Oscars' ratings desperately. IndieWire also writes that ABC has decided to move the air date for the 2020 Oscars up to February 9, before other award shows.
Best Popular Film feels like a redundant category at best, and a needless dive into a classist argument about what constitutes as art. Does the signifier "popular" mean that a film is just big with mainstream audiences, yet doesn't have enough industry clout to be considered a mark of fine cinema? Does being labeled "popular" mean it's not considered high art or worthy enough to be called a Best Picture nominee? For a film to be considered the "best," does it only have the trappings of an arthouse film or period piece? I feel like separating films in this manner just continues to show how out of touch Hollywood can be. Any film can be a Best Picture nominee, regardless of what studio it comes from or for what audience it was made.
This brings me to the elephant in the room. The Oscars want Black Panther as a part of the telecast in some capacity. However, the Academy must not feel like the film would fit into the Best Picture category because it's a Marvel film. This sounds similar to how the Oscars never awarded Andy Serkis as Best Actor just because much of his acting is in tandem with motion capture technology. But just like the Oscars could give Serkis a nomination, couldn't the Oscars nominate Black Panther for Best Picture? There didn't need to be a separate category to do this.
Yes, Black Panther was a popular film and a lucrative one. But does being part of the Marvel machine make it not deserving of being nominated as a Best Picture? I don't think so. It has all the makings of a Best Picture as a film with a bold story, strong characters, pathos and a sticking power that lasts with viewers long after the movie is over. However, another critical question is if movies can be double-nominated since many Best Picture nominees are also quite popular with moviegoers. Could Black Panther be nominated for both Best Popular Film and Best Picture? Could it possibly win both categories? What kind of floodgates would this open for future films?
There are a lot of unanswered questions here, and currently, the Board doesn't have the answers since details are still forthcoming. But one thing is for sure: ABC wants Black Panther at the Oscars, regardless of how that goal is reached.
The 2019 Oscars will air February 23 on ABC.