Anyone who has watched The Oscars before will know very well that artistic integrity isn’t prioritised in the way that the awards’ image demands. However, news of the academy introducing their first new category since ‘Best Animated Film’ in 2001; the ‘Best Popular Film’ category (whatever that means), has surprised even the biggest award show sceptics, like myself. On the back of last year’s show gathering the lowest viewing figures in US history, a move aimed at attracting viewers is to be expected, but this represents more than a mere crowd pleaser. Much has been written about the flaws of this category, and don’t get me wrong, it’s utter nonsense, but little has been said about the value such a category would hold for those that run The Oscars. After all, even though your trendy, Kubrick-loving Uncle will tell you The Oscars are “just for show”, they do actually hold quite a significant inherent value. Last year alone, nominated films saw an 18% surge in box offices sales post-nomination, and that’s just an average*. Films in the past have seen far bigger margins. To name a deliberately divisive example, American Sniper experienced a 90% hike after its nominations (all six of them); a fact that in itself reeks of masked agendas, but that’s beside the point. What this data tells us is that The Oscars represents more than just a service of recognition, it’s a public event that’s endowed with cultural, political, and most crucially, economic interest.
Some people have noted the timely nature of this announcement coinciding with the year where Black Panther has been released to rapturous praise and cries for recognition from the Academy. The suggestion being that that this new category would somehow give the academy the opportunity to appease films and audiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise recognised, thus creating a ‘separate but equal’ feel to the award without having to compromise the ‘Best Picture’ category. Whilst you can’t deny the existence of shameful politics in The Oscars, this critique is ignorant of the real motives at play. And here’s why. ABC, the network which televises The Oscars, and the company who are geared to benefit most from the show, are actually a subsidiary of surprise, surprise, The Walt Disney Company, who of course own Marvel Studios and now incredibly Lucasfilm. So, whilst some may think it’s against the wishes of The Oscars to recognise Black Panther, its actually completely the opposite. This category would effectively allow these studios to award and promote their own films, which frankly makes a complete mockery of the standards that The Oscars supposedly stands for, but sadly this comes as no surprise.
Thankfully the backlash to this news has forced The Academy to delay the implementation of this category, and to “examine and seek additional input regarding the new category”. Maybe some of this additional input will come from those who don’t seek to profit from it, I doubt it though. Expect to hear more about The Film That Made The Most Money That Will Now Make Even More Money Award.
*’Box Office Mojo’