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Wait what? The Academy has decided to add a “Best Popular Film” category to the Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this Wednesday a series of controversial measures in an attempt to pander to a broader audience and put a halt to their declining ratings.

The annual Oscars ceremony has been suffering from free-falling ratings for four years in a row now, with the 2018 telecast taking a dramatic 20% dip from 2017.

While this year’s 26.5 million people audience is still considerable, the number is a far cry from the golden past of what was once the world’s most famous awards ceremony.

“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our academy relevant in a changing world,” said Academy president, John Bailey, in a written statement addressed to the membership.

The three changes announced are major and all of them ruffled the feathers of both critics and industry players on social media.

The less controversial of the trio is the rescheduling of the ceremony. The reform, which will not take effect until 2020, moves the Academy Awards to an earlier date in the year – February 9 tentatively – in an attempt to give the Oscars a heavier touch of suspense and uncertainty.

Until now, the Academy Awards have been the traditional closing ceremony of an almost five-month-long awards season which kick-starts with the Emmy’s and includes the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice awards and the BAFTAs..

Usually, by the time the Oscars come into play the general public already has an idea of who are the favourites to take the accolades home.

On the surface, the move looks like it could add a bit of lost drama to the ceremony, but under the new scenario, Academy voters will have less time to digest all the contenders and less time to cast a thoughtful decision.

The new measure could also be nullified if any of the other ceremonies do the same and move their schedules accordingly.

In one of the most criticized changes, The Academy also announced it will shorten the broadcast and set it at three hours flat, handing out awards which advertisers deem as “unattractive”, during the ad breaks.

Over the years, The Academy has already trimmed its roster of categories to the bare minimum, holding a separate date for the technical accolades and most of the honorary statues.

The most probable categories to be sacrificed this time are the short film awards, which is disheartening because it sucks the air out of an already difficult and ungrateful facet of filmmaking.

But hands down, the revamp that caused the biggest outrage was the introduction of the “outstanding achievement in popular film,” category.

And really, what the hell does that even mean?

An Academy spokesperson clarified in a statement, “While the details for a popular film category are still being finalised, a single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture.

“The new category will be introduced this coming year, at the 91st Oscars. In creating this award, the Board of Governors supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films.”

This has widely been received as the Academy shooting itself in the foot. What criteria can you apply to deem a film “popular”? US Box Office? World Box Office? Rotten Tomatoes scores? Social Media presence?

The change also calls into question the conceptual implications of having such an award. Does this imply that “popular films” are somehow of a lesser artistic value than others?

Many Twitter users interpreted the move as a way to snub Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther from a Best Picture nomination, but for others, the real tune is one which is channeled by an increasingly desperate Academy, pressured to deliver high ratings by Disney-ABC… with whom they have a long-term agreement to broadcast the Oscars through 2028.

Clearly, the current Academy leadership is out of touch with the times, much like that 50-year-old uncle who wears led Zeppelin T-shirts and says “groovy” to make himself more “down with the kids”.

The only thing these new measures are doing is destroying the legacy of the biggest cultural celebration in the world since 1929.

Who knows what they’ll come up with next – will they add a best meme category?

Stay tuned to find out.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros