The Oscars' New Category Will Have to Wait
by Eva Rizk
September 19, 2018 | Arts and Culture
On August 8th, three changes were announced to the Oscars award show by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but the most publicly anticipated one will have to wait due to a recent announcement. The new “outstanding achievement for popular film” category has said to be postponed by the Academy, just one month after the initial revelation, because the new category still requires further study and will not be included in the upcoming 91st Academy Awards.
When the major announcements were made, little information was given to the public about the criteria for choosing the films in the new category, but it is presumed to be for big blockbuster films that don’t get a change to be nominated for best picture, since the films being nominated for best picture are being more artistically admired than widely seen. But the initial letter announcing these changes from Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and Academy president John Bailey cited that "[e]ligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming,” but we have now recently learned that the presentation of the new award will be postponed. Hudson told Vanity Fair in a recent interview, “We heard feedback from our members that we needed to take more time. We felt we needed further study, without abandoning the principle.”
Dubbed the “Black Panther Category”, the Academy has received a wide range of backlash from several journalists and fans criticizing the choice to add the category as a way to prevent popular films from receiving the best picture award. Some have accused the Academy of washing down the high held prestige of the award show since many critics fear the award be will be given to a popular but not “good” movie. Many popular movies are directed by women and people of color, and a popular opinion is that the new category is insulting to those filmmakers:
“It signifies that their film is not good enough to merit a “real” Oscar, but gives them one anyway to acknowledge that audiences liked it a whole bunch so it should be recognized in some prestigious capacity,” says Britt Hayes in an article for ScreenCrush.
Although the new category will not be included in the 2019 ceremony, the other changes announced will be in effect. The shortening of the ceremony to a three-hour telecast was one of the other major decisions taken by the Academy. The change was said be done to offer a more globally accessible and to increase viewership, since the 2018 Oscars reached a record low of 26.5 million viewers, compared to the 33 million in the previous year, for a broadcast that lasted nearly four hours. Shortening the ceremony also means the highly less anticipated categories, like the editing or cinematography awards might be handed out during commercial break, although they will not be removed from the show all together but will be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
Adding a new category has also been said to be a reason to try to increase viewership due the competition the Oscars have been having with the many award shows, like the Golden Globes, that have been airing in recent years, and the struggle the Academy has been having with trying to stay relevant to a younger audience, so giving a chance for popular films to be presented an award also means more popular A-listers attending the award show.
They have also set an earlier air date for the award show in 2020, the chosen date is February 9th, but the 2019 Oscars will still air on February 24th. This decision is due to the timeliness of the Oscars telecast, which is usually the last film award show to be presented after a stream of others, which makes the award show less intriguing since the same films are being recognized in competing shows.