The announcement of a new “popular film” category at the Oscars has been actively unpopular in Hollywood.
The Academy revealed the category on Wednesday, opening the door for films like Black Panther, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to be recognised at the next ceremony in February.
“The film business passed away today,” tweeted West Wing star Rob Lowe, not one to ever mince his words.
“It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration.”
He wasn’t the only industry figure to criticise the change.
Actor and writer Andy Richter said: “Finally the Oscars will be giving a statue based on popularity so that those poor mountains of box office money won’t be lonely anymore.”
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But it’s worth remembering the changes have been made with TV audiences, rather than actors, in mind.
Viewing figures for the Academy Awards have been falling in recent years – the most recent ceremony was down 39% on 2014’s, according to Nielsen figures.
Several theories were forthcoming as to why people were switching off in their droves, with Piers Morgan writing a check list in the Daily Mail earlier this year of things that needed to change.
He suggested the ceremony should ban political speeches, be shorter in length, cut the live performances for each of the best song nominees, and ditch the “boring awards” – ie the technical categories.
Crucially, Morgan said to widespread agreement, films nominated for best picture should be movies the general public actually go and see, rather than obscure titles.
Tellingly, after the announcement of the new category, members of the public were far more positive on Twitter than most actors and industry figures.
But film critics and Hollywood figures were quick to point out perceived flaws in the thinking behind the new category.
“Last year’s best picture nominees to gross over $100m were Get Out and Dunkirk – imagine if both had been shoved into ‘best popular film’ instead and ignored by voters for the big category,” wrote The Atlantic’s David Sims.
Vulture’s Mark Harris was also among those who were critical, tweeting: “There is already an award for popular films. It’s called ‘money’.”
It’s also been noted by some media outlets, such as Variety, that the Oscars are broadcast on ABC in the US, a company owned by Disney – one of the studios which may benefit from the best popular film award.
But the new category isn’t the only change to have sparked a backlash from the film industry.
It was also announced on Wednesday that the ceremony will shorten the telecast to three hours in an attempt to make the ceremony “more accessible for our viewers worldwide”.
In order to fit in all 24 award categories, some will be presented during commercial breaks with the winning moments edited and aired later in the broadcast.
It’s likely that the awards relegated to edited highlights will be those in the technical categories, such as lighting, sound and editing.
“I’m afraid this will end up being a little demeaning,” one member of the film editing branch told The Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s a big thing for those of us ‘below the line’ to get such an award. It makes a big difference in your life and career.”
Another member added: “Turning the show into a popular variety show is a mistake,” arguing that the crafts categories are not the reason the show tends to run long.
“Most of us are played off pretty quickly; it’s all the bloated stuff in between. They could do many things to streamline the show.”
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