The Oscars Are Introducing a New Category for “Outstanding Popular Film”
The Academy just announced three major changes, including a shortened ceremony—and a brand-new category for outstanding achievement in popular film.
August 8, 2018 11:37 am
The Film Academy just revealed a series of changes to the Academy Awards that have major implications. On Wednesday, president John Bailey and C.E.O. Dawn Hudson announced the three key changes: shortening the telecast to a firm three hours, setting an earlier date for the ceremony itself, and, most importantly, adding a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. This marks the first time a new category has been announced since 2001, when best animated feature was added to the awards slate.
This is an enormous move for the Academy, a sign that the elite institution is once again trying to find more ways to reward the sorts of movies typically seen by the filmgoing public—and get more viewers to tune in to the annual ceremony. Adding this category could, conceivably, help ameliorate accusations that the institution has fallen out of step with popular culture (a contributing factor to the ceremony’s diminishing viewership).
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Though the Academy doesn’t intimate this in its letter, it’s easy to imagine that this new category was inspired by the blockbuster success of Black Panther. It’s no secret that Disney is setting an awards campaign in motion for the film, angling not just for technical nods, but also for a hallowed best-picture nom. If this new category debuts at the 2019 ceremony, Black Panther seems like a lock (unless Mamma Mia! 2 intervenes), giving the Academy a way to ensure recognition for one of the biggest, most culturally impactful films of the year.
If that is what comes to pass, it’ll be curious to see how director Ryan Coogler handles the impending Oscar appreciation for his blockbuster film. It was reported back in 2016 that Coogler declined an invitation to join the Academy. In addition, he scheduled a benefit for the people of Flint, Michigan, at the same time as that year’s ceremony. The event not only sent a clear message about Coogler’s priorities, but also raised nearly $156,000 for the people suffering through the ongoing water crisis.
This is the second time in recent memory that a major Academy change has hinged on the success of an incredibly popular, game-changing comic-book movie. Ten years ago, the Oscars didn’t nominate Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed blockbuster The Dark Knight for best picture, which inspired an immediate outcry—though Heath Ledger, who played the Joker in the film, went on to win a posthumous best-supporting-actor statuette. In a move widely believed to be a response to the backlash, the Academy then broadened the best-picture category from 5 nominees to 10, adding wiggle room for movies that otherwise don’t meet the institution’s stringent standards. In 2001, the Academy also added a best-animated-film category, after complaints that the works of studios like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation were unfairly under-appreciated by the awards. The Academy still has yet to award best picture to an animated film.
The other changes that the Academy has approved are also quite telling. Shortening the ceremony to a strict three hours is a straightforward way to court viewers who are otherwise dismayed by the show’s bloated running time. In order to meet this goal, though, the Oscars will have to present select categories during commercial breaks—which is a nice way of saying that less headline-grabbing categories will be relegated to the sidelines. That sounds similar to the way the Academy celebrates honorary Oscar winners, who are now given their statuettes months in advance at the Governors Awards. Tiny snippets of their speeches are shown during the live Oscars ceremony.
The last change, bringing the ceremony up to an earlier date in February, will be greatly appreciated by followers of the lengthy awards season (which starts, unofficially, around September and runs ahead at full speed until the Oscars). Here’s the Academy’s letter in full:
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson
Forum-autist, coming through!