The Oscars’ New “Popularity” Award – What is it and how did we get here?

(I’ll give you a hint: It has a lot to do with a little film called Black Panther.)

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Leonardo DeCaprio finally won his Oscar for Best Actor in 2016, after being nominated 5 times previously

Since its inception, the Oscars has been the marker of great films. The Oscars mean excellence of craft and proof of artistic mastery.  

But recently, the millennial generation of moviegoers have claimed that what once was a prestigious emblem of success is now a pretentious pandering to an elite club within an already elitist community. Filmmakers and actors worked towards creating “Oscar” films, and they knew exactly what those looked like, from their artistic style to their plot structure to their casting, and all of these were aimed at pleasing a very specific audience of extremely wealthy lifetime Academy members. In 2016, with the “Oscars So White” controversy, Hollywood glimpsed the first industry uprising that specifically targeted the mindset and repercussions of long admired Oscar formula.

In the wake of “Oscars So White” came the “Me Too” movement (which had a very particular focus in Hollywood, and especially with the Oscars as infamous Oscar producer Harvey Weinstein was at the center of the scandal), and even new requirements for diversity in all contending BAFTA films.

Meanwhile, other “lesser” films where providing the representation that was lost on the Oscars for so long, and people quickly realized that not only were the Oscars excluding entire groups of people based on gender, race, and sexuality, but the awards also isolated a large chunk of the general public, who weren’t interested in Oscar pandering films.

But popular means money, and let’s get one thing straight – in Hollywood, it’s ALL about the money. As people started seeing through the Oscars’ tricks, they decided to stop watching. And how will the Oscars make money if no one watches? 

Therein lies the question – how do we get people to watch? Well, simple. You nominate films that people actually like.

It’s not to say that there have been no Oscar films that were popular, that’s very far from the truth, or no films that were genuinely deserving of the highest praise (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film I’ll never forget), but that’s all beside the point. Oscar films are for film buffs, and frankly there just aren’t enough of those to make up an audience. 

So what was a film that was really popular this year? Marvel’s Black Panther. Grossing an astonishing 1.35 billion dollars and boasting a predominantly black cast and crew, this was the film one to beat. And on top of all of that, it sent a tangible message about race relations to the audience and people connected with it. Surely all of that meets the requirement for an “Oscar” film?

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Black Panther grossed over $1.35 billion at the box office. Source: Marvel Studios

Yet despite all its earnings and praise (both critical and commercial), The Academy had a serious problem with actually nominating a Marvel movie for Best Picture.

Somewhere along the way, we as a society decided that good cinema isn’t popular, and popular cinema isn’t good.

 But the Oscars just couldn’t pass up that chance at garnering an audience, so they came up with a sort of consolation prize – the Most Popular Film.

There are a couple of reasons why the film connoisseurs have a problem with this new category. For one, it devalues the premiere category of Best Picture, as it suggests that what should be the must-see of that year is not the most popular. Additionally, it’s sort of a backhanded compliment to the winner of Most Popular, because they couldn’t get into an actual Oscar category. Plus, the Oscars already have over ten filmed nominated in the Most Popular category, which seems to devalue the category itself. And the largest argument – isn’t revenue the “Most Popular” prize?

Most critics are worried that the category opens up the Oscars to other categories more appropriate for lesser award shows, and that the merit of winning an Oscar decreases significantly when you add arbitrary categories. But others argue that award shows are entirely arbitrary anyways, so this addition shouldn’t matter.

What I personally believe is the real problem is the massive disconnect between what people associate with films that are “Oscar-worthy” and those that are not, despite the fact that modern technological advancements put all major films in the same demand for high production value, skilled acting, and credible directing. Why are we so quick to say what belongs in the elite category and what doesn’t?

If Black Panther was an independent film, I would wager a bet that it would make the Best Picture category, but because it was a Marvel movie (and because it was popular), the Academy didn’t want it.

I believe this situation tells us that we are on the verge of something new and that perhaps the Oscars will, like so many other things, adapt or die.

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Tell Us: Do you like this new Oscar category? Why or why not?

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Author: JaimeeRindy

I love good entertainment. I hope to make it someday!

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