The idea to hand out a popular film Oscar has been shelved for now following widespread backlash, but film academy president John Bailey says that the new category was well-intentioned in its efforts to reflect a changing industry and misunderstood by its critics.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it will further study plans for the category, citing the fact that implementing a new award three quarters of the way into the year would create challenges for films that have already been released.
The academy announced the new category for “outstanding achievement in popular film” last month without parameters, spawning immediate questions about the criteria and how it would impact critically and commercially films such as Black Panther, which has been cited as a possible best picture contender.
Bailey said he was surprised by the negative reaction to the new category and feels that that people did not understand its goal to give recognition to the kinds of films that are being made today.
“The idea of this award was not about trying to make sure that certain kinds of big mass market pictures get recognised. To my mind, it’s more about the kind of pictures that are so difficult to get made,” Bailey said, citing films that he worked on like The Big Chill and Ordinary People as the kind of “middle pictures” that major studios don’t make as many of and, when they do, aren’t often recognised with the film industry’s most prestigious award.
“What the board hoped was that in addition to maybe giving an opportunity for some of the larger budget films, (that it) was also and kind of mainly for these kinds of pictures that are so hard to get made — pictures like A Quiet Place or Crazy Rich Asians,” Bailey said. “These are wonderful pictures and deserve to somehow find an ability to be honored as well.”
He’s unsure of when it will remerge as a possible addition to the Academy Awards ceremony, but it could be as soon as next year.
While the criteria for the new category are still not defined, Bailey said both release size and box office are part of the equation and that a film like Black Panther could be submitted and potentially win for both best picture and popular film. The same is true for an animated film.
Oscar viewership is often tied to the box-office muscle of the big nominees. Ratings for the 90th Academy Awards fell to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, down 19 per cent from the previous year and the first time the glitzy awards ceremony had fewer than 30 million viewers since 2008. The biggest show audience on record came in 1998, when the blockbuster Titanic was named best picture.
The last three years the best picture Oscar has gone to “smaller” films — The Shape of Water, Moonlight and Spotlight — none of which made more than $100 million at the North American box office or played in more than 3,000 theatres.
The 91st annual Oscars, to be held February 24 in Los Angeles, will undergo some changes this year, with the academy planning to shorten the ceremony to three hours. In order to do so, it plans to hand out Oscars in six to eight categories during commercial breaks. The academy also still plans to shorten the awards season by moving up the 2020 Oscars a few weeks to February 9, 2020.