A month after announcing a new category for “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film,” the Oscars decided against premiering this highly contentious award at the upcoming 91st Academy Awards Ceremony.

This “Popular Film” award was designed to celebrate Hollywood’s colossal hits, the much anticipated and hyped up releases that have movie theaters across the country selling out on the films’ opening weekends. Huge movie franchises, like those of Marvel Cinematic Universe, had the potential to land nominations in this category.

The award was meant to diversify the repertoire of Academy Award categories, giving films with a more mainstream, crowd-pleasing focus a place for recognition amongst the movies that are more intended to spotlight their artistically excellent and message-oriented features that the Oscars have been known to commend. Not to insinuate that popular films cannot possess these qualities, just that their commercial intentions sometimes cloud their creative proficiency.

When the concept of this new category was first introduced to the public, it met with a controversial reception. Some argued that films that would be categorized as popular do not truly reach the level of brilliance and mastery that general Oscar-nominated films do, and should not be lauded in an awards show intended for the latter.

These critics have a thought process akin to, if the Michelin star, awarded to only the restaurants that encapsulate the finest dining, decided to hand out a special “excellence in fast food” award.

This group of opposition believes that selling out and topping rankings should be enough of an award for mainstream films. Popular films are already widely known and recognizable, and the Academy Awards should target films that exceed expectations and carry a depth that the average moviegoer may not have been exposed to.

Other critics say the need to establish a category for “popular” films devalues the films themselves. Just because a film was a crowd pleasing, blockbuster sensation does not imply that it was not a high quality work of art.

After the initial announcement of the category, many speculated “Black Panther” might be nominated. (Image via Popsugar)

There is no need to form a separate division for popular films, as they are fully capable of embodying the level of mastery any Oscar-worthy movie has. If it is a first-rate film, the Academy will find a way to grant it the attention it deserves.

For example, “La La Land.” This masterpiece starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling was a massive hit with moviegoers and a shoe-in for Oscar nominations (even if perhaps not in the Best Overall Film category).

The Academy, having listened to these concerns,  has decided to slide the category back onto the drawing board, work out some kinks and potentially reintroduce it in future years.

Even though there is a sense of validity to some of the criticism the idea has garnered, I think the Popular Film category could be a progressive move to diversify the Oscars.

Every single movie that is released into the public has a massive amount of human labor involved, from the forefront, with the actors and actresses, to the background, comprising of the director, set designers, score-writers, script editors and more.

If a film is popular enough to draw mass amounts of public attention, then the people involved in its creation had to be doing something right. Why discredit the excellence and hard work behind  a film just because it has an overwhelming presence in mainstream media? If the average moviegoer adores the film, then the acting community should be able to find value in it as well.

People are so beholden to the niche mastery of the classic Oscar winner that it could be hard to bring commercially successful films into the Oscar-worthy mindset without a little push. This category could be the force that brings it into play.

I hope that a positive reconsideration is in the works.

Writer Profile

Maya Ramani

University of Virginia

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