The Academy’s new Oscar for “achievement in popular film” is a terrible idea and overlooks a great opportunity to add a more deserving category.

Ahead of the fast approaching awards season, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced some big, and unfortunate, changes.

The most minor change is that the awards ceremony would be held on February 9, a few weeks earlier than usual. This is particularly notable considering last year’s ceremony was in March.

The second change was to the length of the telecast. The Academy voted to reduce the length of the awards show by a half hour, meaning that some categories would be announced during commercial breaks and the winners’ speeches would be edited and shown later. This choice sends a rather disappointing message to those whose category will be cut from the live telecast — taking away their spotlight in exchange for a few spare minutes.

The biggest change, however, is the announcement of a new category. In a tweet from the official Academy Twitter, they announced: “A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.”

The implications of this decision range from mildly frustrating to downright confounding. Does that mean that the movies nominated for Best Picture are somehow not popular? Is the point that movies that make billions of dollars deserve Oscars for simply making a lot of money? Just last year, hugely successful movies like Get Out and Dunkirk were nominated alongside other films that did extremely well, including Darkest Hour, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

This new “popular” category is even more frustrating given how desperate it feels. Over the last few years, the Academy has taken clear steps to diversify its membership. This choice was meant to allow for more organic change; changing the demographics of the voting body would give way to a wider array of films being considered for awards.

The inclusion of a category that is such an obvious and desperate ploy to increase viewership will not only fail to achieve its goal, but it also misses out on the opportunity to add a more deserving category.

Rather than adding in a completely unnecessary “popularity” award, the Academy should consider adding one of these categories instead.

Casting

One of the long unrecognized and overlooked, yet deeply important elements in filmmaking is the casting process. Particularly those large ensemble films that depend on filling in every role — no matter how small — with an actor who will deliver a performance that feels authentic within the film. Casting directors work tirelessly to fill roles with the best talent they can — not only that, but they work to find actors that work together well, to bring the script to life in unexpected ways. There’s a reason you see a “Casting by” line pop up in the credits of movies — it’s time that the Academy began to be mindful of that work.

Best Ensemble

Sure, we’ve got four acting awards that get handed out, but what about those films that shine, not just because of one or two performances, but several? There are those movies that shine, not simply because of one performance, but the way the collective whole come together to create something cohesive. The Academy would do well to borrow a page from the Screen Actors Guild and include a category for best ensemble performance. It would seem like a no-brainer to include this award, one that could go to those ambitious films that weave a wide cast of characters.

Stunt work

It’s honestly baffling that there isn’t already an award for stunt work. As a crucial and recurring component of dozens of high profile films every year and an element that requires immense skill, it seems obvious that the Academy should want to award films for their excellence in this area. Perhaps the Academy holds the opinion that those films with lots of stunt work are less important or prestigious?

It’s telling that the Academy has ignored something like stunt work — a recognizable and significant element in many “popular” movies — and instead jumped directly to including a popularity award. It’s almost like they don’t actually care about those popular movies, they simply want the attention and considerable money that comes with them.

Voice acting and motion capture performance

As technology has evolved and improved, more films are taking advantage of motion capture and high-tech animation — giving way to more voice acting and motion capture performances. Not only would an award for these kinds of performances broaden the scope of films that are considered (maybe some of those “popular” films would organically find their way into awards consideration).

Best unpopular film

You know what movies don’t need awards? Movies that gross billions of dollars internationally. Movies that make more in one day than some movies make in their entire theatrical run. Movies that are simply another installment in a never-ending production line of sequels. Those movies are doing just fine — there is zero chance of those disappearing any time soon.

It’s disappointing that the Academy is choosing to include an award for “achievement in popular film” when they could just as easily flip it around and apply it to unpopular films. You know, the ones that barely get distributed outside of major metropolitan cities. Those movies that, either due to their niche subject matter or simple lack of money, struggle to make it in front of viewers. Rather than take an opportunity to lift up films that otherwise don’t receive the attention they deserve, the Academy chose the alternative route: to give us more of the same.

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