We can confidently say Black Panther will not be winning the Best Popular Film Oscar this year—nor will any other film. The controversial category was announced this summer as an addition to the Oscars for the upcoming 91st ceremony, and raised a lot of questions. Today, the Academy announced it has decided to postpone the Best Popular Film category, meaning it will not make its debut in February as originally intended.
This is good news. In a statement, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said, “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members. We have made changes to the Oscars over the years — including this year — and we will continue to evolve while also respecting the incredible legacy of the last 90 years.”
Indeed, when the Academy announced the category, they neglected to reveal exactly what qualified a film for consideration in Best Popular Film—box office? Budget? I mean, Avengers: Infinity War and Crazy Rich Asians are both very popular films, but quantifying that in a way that makes both eligible for Best Popular Film is difficult.
Another concern was that the category might actually hinder the very thing it’s intended to do. Most Oscar prognosticators have Marvel’s Black Panther on the shortlist to earn a Best Picture nomination. But if that film is a given for Best Popular Film, it could lead voters to leave it off their Best Picture shortlist, relegating it to “Kids Table” status instead of getting recognized in the Academy’s most prestigious category. I have a feeling this specific concern, relating to Black Panther in particular, is why the Academy has decided to delay the new category. After #OscarsSoWhite, they really don’t want to be embarrassed once again.
It remains to be seen what the Academy will do, if anything, in the Best Popular Film category’s stead. Reporting revealed that the new category arose out of discussions with Disney-owned ABC, which has been unhappy with the ratings of the Oscars telecasts for the last few years—nevermind the fact that the way people watch television has evolved significantly during that same time period.
So take a deep breath knowing we dodged a bullet here. It’ll be interesting to see if the Best Popular Film category actually does roll around next year, or if the Academy’s Board of Governors—which unilaterally made the decision to announce the category in the first place—actually takes the time to listen to the Academy members to see how they feel about changing the Oscars to become more viewer friendly.
As I said when this category was first announced, the Oscars has and should continue to be an awards ceremony first and foremost. Spend time tailoring the broadcast to people who love film, not wishy-washy viewers who only care about glitz, glamor, and moving the ceremony along as quickly as possible.