Is the ‘popular film’ Oscar category patronising?

On the 8th August this year, The Academy, home of the Oscars, announced the addition of a new category to the world’s most well-known awards ceremony. According to their twitter feed, this will centre around “achievement in popular film.” This has been met with backlash from across the film industry, and rightly so.

In recent years the Academy has been guilty of awarding the “Oscar bait” films with nominations in the Best Picture category. These are usually films that are historical pieces, have a limited release in cinemas, represent the story of a minority or have certain stalwart directors or actors attached, such as Meryl Streep or Quentin Tarantino to name a few. The Oscars are, admittedly, at risk of becoming an elitist in-group of a certain section of Hollywood and the ratings are beginning to show that. No one is going to tune into an awards show to see if La La Land or Moonlight will win as the vast majority of people will have not seen movies in this vein.

A popular film category seems like the ideal remedy. A place where the summer blockbusters can vie for contention. The likes of Marvel Studios and Disney seem to finally have a platform to compete; whereas previously they’ve been unable to crack the “bigger” Oscar categories. But scratch underneath the surface and the Academy’s attempts to seem like it’s the awards show of the people comes across as offensive to a lot of people’s hard work and dedication to filmmaking.

The big problem here is that it creates a sense of us and them. What the Academy is saying by having a popular film category and the Best Picture category is that those nominated in the former are somehow lesser to those in the latter. In a bid to entice the general public into watching the Oscars, they may in fact only alienate them further. Just think, if “Black Panther” is nominated in the popular film category and something like the upcoming movie “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is nominated for Best Picture, the wording surrounding the categories alone is enough to tell the cast and crew of Black Panther that any award won is purely a consolation prize. As many online commentators have stated, in so many words this category should be dubbed the “You made a lot of money and we can’t ignore that but you were released during the Summer so you don’t count for an actual Oscar” award. It comes across as patronising. Many great movies of 2018 will unfortunately and unfairly be placed into this category and they don’t deserve it. The likes of Black Panther and A Quiet Place have strong cases to receive nominations in the Best Picture category but with the addition of the new category now makes nominations even less likely.

The Academy Awards should be a metaphorical gateway drug, so to speak. Instead of creating a category specifically for “popular” movies, the Academy should slowly warm to the idea of allowing bigger, “popular” movies into the Best Picture category. This is the best way to increase viewership. Start to bring people in with a well-known movie like Get Out and make them leave wanting to watch something like Call Me By Your Name. Don’t patronise viewers and filmmakers alike by deeming some of the years most well known and best-loved films as not worthy enough for a Best Picture nomination.

By Matt Walker


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