After last year’s Oscars—which were the least watched since Nielsen started keeping track of viewership numbers—it was easy to imagine a group of panicked network executives and Academy members huddling in a war room somewhere in Hollywood, trying to figure out what went wrong. The official autopsy revealed some pretty familiar causes of death: The show was too long! The categories are too niche! And unless you were a card-carrying member of film Twitter, which the average American is not, the movies were too obscure. It also doesn’t help that people just don’t consume live television in the same way that they used to.
First of all, what is the criteria? What does the word “popular” even mean, when it comes to movies? Based on the vague description, it sounds like the Academy doesn’t even know for sure. Will it be based on box-office receipts or Rotten Tomatoes scores? Word-of-mouth or online engagement? If its goal is to recognize beloved low-brow movies like Deadpool 2 and Game Night, what does it mean for really good movies like Get Out and Dunkirk? Both were beloved by fans and critics alike, made a ton of money, and still found their ways to the Oscars. The Academy has said that if a film is eligible for one category, it won’t be excluded from another. But one has to imagine that voters will naturally compartmentalize, weakening a popular film’s hopes of landing a Best Picture nod, too. It happens with animated films—which also have their own category—all the time.
The irony is that if Black Panther taught us anything, it’s that inclusivity and diversity in movies are good things.
This is baffling for two reasons. First, while it’s true that comic book movies have traditionally been ignored by the Academy (apart from a screenwriting nod last year), blockbusters haven’t been. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Avatar and Mad Max: Fury Road were all nominated for Best Picture, and Titanic won the top prize outright. Using that logic, there’s no reason to think that a Black Panther nomination would be beyond the realm of possibility. The second reason is the recent diversification of the Academy’s voting body in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite movement. That progress was likely a key factor in getting Get Out nominated last year, and would have likely guaranteed that Black Panther was recognized this year. The irony is that if Black Panther taught us anything, it’s that inclusivity and diversity in movies are good things. And by pitting big movies against small movies, the Academy seems to have missed the point entirely.