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The Academy’s “Popular Film” Category Remains as Frustrating as Ever

I'm still so gosh darn mad about this!

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Every time I think about the Academy’s newest category, it’s an instant dose of rage, complete with the urge to write a myriad of think pieces on why this is a patently bad idea. The abundance of other think pieces on the subject have served as a deterrent, but today, my frustrations know no bounds. So, dear readers, let’s talk about my two biggest fears and frustrations with this new category, because there are pretty much two ways it can go: it’ll either go to whichever Star Wars, Marvel, or Disney film is hot that year, or it will be used as a runner-up trophy for whichever film would have come in second in the best picture race.

Let’s talk about the first issue. One of my biggest fears is that this category will become essentially the Disney category, where a popular film that comes out of the studio or one of the infinite other studios it owns will almost always be the winner. The Last Jedi, despite some serious backlash, would’ve probably swept the category had it existed last year, or perhaps Beauty and the Beast; ideally, it would have gone to Thor: Raganrok, which actually deserved some serious Oscar love, but I’m bitter and not willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt that it would have given that the push it needed.

Disney is in charge of most of the popular films that get churned out every year, due to the fact it owns nearly every Infinity Stone in Hollywood. This category just seems like a way to ensure that Disney gets an Oscar for a big name film every year, which frustrates me. If a film is truly Oscar worthy, like Black Panther, it deserves to be in the Best Picture race. (By the way, does this mean that we can push for Michael B. Jordan to get a Supporting Actor nomination now? Because he’s the best comic book movie villain of all time and should get that gold.)

But there are popular films that come out each year that flat out do not deserve to be nominated in this category, but will score a nomination any way, because Disney is all-knowing and has the money to sink into For Your Consideration campaigns for whatever film blows up at the box office that year.

The other problem is that the category could easily swing the other way and give a couple “popular” popcorn films a nod, but then go to whichever of the Best Picture nominees saw the highest box office returns OR be used as a way to shut out a film like Get Out from the actual race. Something like La La Land could have easily taken the Popular Film award, when it’s currently the kind of movie that already gets serious Best Picture attention—or Les Miserables could have won, or the trash fire that was American Sniper.

To put it succinctly, this is not a good idea because it can go either one of two ways, and both ways will be used to shut out deserving films from the race. It’ll either be Disney’s consolation prize for having the biggest box office, or it’ll be a second-place trophy for a would-be Best Picture nominee while still serving as a way to keep actually unique, well-made films out of the main race. This is where we’ll see films like Eighth Grade and Crazy Rich Asians consigned, despite the fact they would normally land in the big categories.

As films that aren’t just about white, cishet men become more and more commonplace now that Hollywood is recognizing that people pay for representation, in turn, they have to create a category to excuse why they don’t consider these films to be high art. We shouldn’t have to have this conversation in 2018. Genre is not inherently bad, and that means comedy as well as fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The Academy needs a massive shakeup, but this is not the way to do it. Instead, we’re crafting yet another way to keep art down while honoring either the studio that’s willing to shell out the biggest bucks OR to find a way to honor something fairly basic while ostensibly giving these films a shot.

Let genre take back the Oscars. Let wins for films like The Shape of Water and Get Out not be the Academy’s exceptions to their no genre fare rule but the beginnings of an age in which truly quality film receives awards, not just whatever fits into the mold of Oscar bait. Scrap this category and start anew with the knowledge that people want to see the best films nominated and awarded, not just whatever happens to be the biggest Oscar-bait film of the year.

And for the love of all that is good, let both Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians receive a Best Picture nod, because if they’re both resigned to the “popular” category then the Academy is truly a lost cause.

(image: Warner Bros.)

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Author
Kate Gardner
Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.