Academy attempts to improve Oscars’ ratings, creates popular controversy

September 10, 2018 — by Andrew Lee

Ever since the Oscars made a transition from being a private company banquet to a televised broadcast in 1953, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been trying to push its production to become more interesting and audience-friendly.

Even with these efforts, though, many have noticed that the annual show’s viewership has been on a steady decline in recent years, with this year’s ratings dropping to a record low of 26.5 million viewers. To alleviate these poor ratings and keep audiences engaged, the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences announced changes starting 2020, such as a capped runtime of three hours and an earlier air date of Feb. 9.

The most riveting and controversial announcement, however, was the addition of a new award category: Achievement in Popular Film, which spurred lots of controversy and discussion among film buffs.

Without any further information about how films would be selected for the award, people were left confused as to what the award really stood for. Speculation suggested that the award could be based on box-office performance or attention in the media.

Many feared that popular films with potential and merit to be Best Picture, such as the recent groundbreaking blockbuster “Black Panther,” would be pushed into an arguably “lesser” award because of their high ticket sales and large budgets.

Because of the groundswell of criticism the Academy has faced, the institution has decided to completely remove the implementation of the new award in the near future, and according to Los Angeles Times, “seek additional input” and remain “actively engaged” on whether the idea should return.

Even with the immense backlash from fans and the widespread negativity regarding the uncalled for Popular Film award, the Academy feels as if the addition of this new category was justified and could even return in the future.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Academy president John Bailey said that “this new award was meant to create a category of really excellent filmmaking that would essentially address and create interest in the awards for the kind of movies that people really go to see in large numbers.”

For many, “The Oscars” have always been a celebrated outlet in which excellent films, no matter how obscure, are honored. Films of any type, regardless of media attention or ticket sales, are given the opportunity to step up into the spotlight for their achievements and are deservingly represented in the film industry as the best of the best.

Noticeably, popular films have been consistently absent for much of Oscars history. Although they are enjoyed and celebrated by a majority of the public, they are not deemed representative of the most prestigious excellency in film by Academy voters. However, as popular films seem to be improving in quality in the eyes of the Academy, people have been excited to see the Awards give the recognition that some popular films arguably deserve.

The introduction of an award based on popular achievement made people feel as if the progress made by these films had been undermined and were planning to be given a “consolation” prize not worthy of the title of “Best Picture.”

But according to Bailey, there was a fundamental misunderstanding in how the award was received. Instead of using this award as a cheap attempt to sideline a plethora of superhero-dominated popular films, the Academy was trying to find a way to recognize a dramatic shift in modern film industry — one that separates more adult, profound films and those considered to be “popular.”

In addition, Bailey argues that the Academy and its methods for nominating films should not be seen as a strict or rigid structure, but rather as one that should evolve and adapt to fit with the ever-changing film industry. The choice to remove the category was one that was not up to himself, but rather a democratic choice of all 54 board members of the Academy and popular opinion, Bailey said.

“[The Academy] is trying to be egalitarian and listening to the voices of our members ….” Bailey said. “We are just trying to address what we see as an existential problem that ... is not going to go away in terms of where films seem to be headed.”

In an attempt to rebuild after its record-breaking low ratings earlier this year, Academy leaders inadvertently created much more of a backlash than they were counting on, only to reverse in the end. The Academy hopes that people understand that members are doing their best to address an abrupt shift in popular film culture and misconceptions about the Oscars’ goal to recognize excellence in film.


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