Why the Oscars is getting first new category in 17 years

Critics slate Academy’s decision to add Popular Film award as ‘desperate ratings grab’


The Academy Awards is adding a new category for the first time in almost two decades, in the form of an “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” Oscar.

Academy president John Bailey and chief executive officer Dawn Hudson announced the move yesterday, along with a package of reforms aimed at keeping the annual movie awards, which began in 1929, “relevant in a changing world”. The Oscars ceremony running time is also being shortened, to three hours, and the date of the event moved forward to earlier in February.

The new category is “an enormous move for the Academy”, says Vanity Fair, and “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”.

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It will also help to “ameliorate accusations that the institution has fallen out of step with popular culture”, says the magazine.

Some commentators are suggesting that the blockbuster success of Black Panther may have inspired the new category, the first addition to the gongs line-up since Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2002.

However, ScreenCrush describes the new category as a “desperate ratings grab” that could hurt films such as Black Panther in the long run. The film, directed by Ryan Coogler, had been tipped for nominations in the more traditional Oscars categories, such as Best Picture, but many fans now fear that it will be sidelined.

A win in the new category “would signal to audiences - and the industry - that Coogler’s astonishing afro-futuristic superhero film is more of a product than a piece of art; that it’s the most-watched and tweeted-about and liked, but not necessarily of the highest quality”, says the entertainment news site.

“The Best Popular Film Oscar is not something to strive for; it’s an insult,” the site adds.

Others complain that the new award is a cheap attempt to win over “the common people”.

“This is the ‘Good Job, Moviegoers!’ award,” says Time magazine, “and if nothing else, it tells us one thing: the Academy thinks the public is stupid.”

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