The Academy Says Goodbye to its Newest Member
The "Popular Film" category that was announced earlier this year was reversed.
Earlier this year, the “Popular Film” category was announced. Its optimistic intention: to give films that weren’t orthodox “Oscar” movies the opportunity to become critically acclaimed. Oscar films are movies purely with the intention of competing at the Academy Awards—think period dramas or serious films that attempt to bring something new to the cinematic table.
So, hey. If Hollywood is trying to add in a category to recognize exceptional blockbusters, that’s amazing, right? Well, not really. In reality, this proposition had an ulterior motive.
The “Best Popular Picture” category was supposed to cap the potential success of specific flicks. Its latent, yet inevitable outcome would’ve been a quid pro quo. Voters vouch for a movie in the “popular” category, and therefore ignore it when it’s time to nominate it for Best Picture because it will already win “Best Popular Picture.” Favored films could potentially sweep the other awards, but by already winning the popular category, its opportunities diminish.
In terms of recognition, “Best Popular” was meant to keep blockbusters at second best.
Luckily, this category has been scrapped by the Academy. The Oscars already face a lot of backlash for the division of gender, therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to keep creating categories to minimize competition. The question is: Why was the Academy adamant on making this decision now?
Black Panther, the Marvel action movie that left crowds beyond satisfied and smashed the American box office records, was a superhero movie that went beyond its counterparts to touch allegorical issues of race and culture. It had an African director and cast, and the soundtrack is completely comprised of Black icons. Most importantly, it was a film that didn’t perpetuate stereotypes about the African-American community, and instead embraced its cultural roots through fantasy. It aimed to eliminate prejudice, and inspire pride within the Black demographic.
Instead of having a White Superman or Spider-Man to look up to, African-American children now have a hero they could relate to.
Its appraisal and box office stats were intimidating, especially for figures in the Academy. Fears concerning the superficial legitimacy of the awards instantly took over. Would the ceremony be taken seriously anymore if a super hero-film won over a drama?
That’s not it, though. What do Moonlight, Get Out, and now Black Panther all have in common? (It doesn’t take much time to recognize it.) Moonlight excluded, none of these films were Oscar-molded films. However, they had more to offer, especially because it demonstrated the talent within African-American filmmakers and casts.
The Academy is 94% White. I doubt that their intentions were driven by prejudice, but since their perspective is numerically lacking, these films would never receive the recognition deserved. The “Popular Film” category was externally seen as a way to support typical Hollywood films, but it internally encouraged racial stratification to keep African-American success at bay.
Although accidental, it was inevitable, and this isn’t the first time the Academy deals with racial tension.
Franz McDormand advocated for inequity awareness earlier this year during the awards as well.
“Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” – Franz McDormand
In her speech, McDormand reprimanded the entertainment industry for being White-washed. In other words, movies were inaccurately representing our communities by hiring from one strata, both on or off camera. She pitched the “inclusion rider” addendum to actors’ contracts: a clause that states that there needs to be a criteria met in terms of how much of the cast and crew are from different backgrounds. After the ceremony, many celebrities backed her up on social media, and now Michael B. Jordan and Warner Bros. are the new face of the addendum.
Warners Bros. is the first major studio to take the leap to diversify both its cast and crew. Not only that, but the new “inclusion rider” will also affect its sister companies, like HBO and Turner. To understand what led to this grand step from the company, we have to go back to the Oscars earlier this year.
Just Mercy, starring Jordan, will be the first Warner Bros. film to utilize the “inclusion rider” with hopes to bring together a workforce that combines differing perspectives to formulate an amazing work. Just Mercy brings forth civil rights by presenting the life of Bryan Stevenson as he strives to free a condemned death row prisoner in the 1980s. Stevenson identified the claims made against the inmate as false, and in fact, tainted with racial prejudice and stereotypes. In order for the film to have a significant impact, the “inclusion rider” will make sure that much of the cast accurately depicts the populace of 1980s America.
Protestors believe that this will take jobs away from those who aren’t considered minorities. Ignorant statements have been made, theorizing that diversification will lead to a permanent loss of traditional values in filmmaking, and thus shift it into something that will fail. Critics reflect upon the affirmative action collapse of public universities and use it as a precedent to this new idea. Why is everyone so afraid of hiring more people of different backgrounds? The policy doesn’t aim to decrease the amount of White people hired in the industry, but only to increase the number of minorities. If anything, it creates opportunities for more talent to fill roles on both sides of the camera.
The process will start at the writing table where screenwriters will sit down and discuss: Okay, how do we make this accurate to society? Having people from different backgrounds in this stage of pre-production will already make a positive impact. Other benefits are that the equity clause involves improving conditions for more women and members of the LGBTQ+ community—something that has been long overdue.
It’s a policy that proposes inclusivity, not omission.
Even with all this unrest, the Oscars are still the ultimate goal for visual storytellers. It’s still internationally accepted as the elite standard for evaluating films. The public wouldn’t think twice if a “Popular Film” won “Best Picture” because if it’s a good movie, then it’s a good movie—there’s no question about that.
Every young filmmaker dreams of attending this award show. Their imagination fantasizes about walking the red carpet, doing interviews, being amongst talented peers, and winning Best Picture. That’s the infatuation, but like everything else in life, it’s easier said than done.
In the end, it’s a strongly political enterprise where (rarely) the best actual film will win Best Picture. Can Black Panther be the one to erase this precedent?