Academy Postponing New Popular Oscar Category

The award was to have been introduced at the 91st Oscars.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is postponing the introduction of the new “popular” Oscar category it had intended to introduce at its upcoming 91st Academy Awards on Feb. 24. 

The Academy announced Thursday, following a special meeting of the board of governors on Wednesday morning, that it is shelving the idea for the moment and will not launch the proposed new award at the next Oscar show, but it said it will continue to discuss the idea for the new award and "will examine and seek additional input regarding the new category." The announcement explained that implementing the new award nine months into the year "created challenges for films that have already been released." The Academy did not provide any timeline for when further details about the new award might be decided.

“There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said Thursday. “We have made changes to the Oscars over the years — including this year — and we will continue to evolve while also respecting the incredible legacy of the last 90 years.”

Last month, the Academy’s board of governors voted to create the new award, which it said would recognize “outstanding achievement in popular film.” But it did not lay out the criteria or voting process that would be used to determine which films would be eligible and how they would be selected. With awards season currently taking shape as dozens of Oscar hopefuls are introduced at festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, which kicks off its fest Thursday, numerous questions were raised about the proposed award. With studios and distributors drawing up plans for the coming awards season, the Academy was under pressure to set up rules regarding the new category.

While the Academy appeared to still be committed to the new award, even though it said it requires further study, the question will now become whether or not it quietly drops the idea altogether.

Hoping to stem falling ratings for the Oscar broadcast, the Academy is looking for ways to attract the attention of mainstream moviegoers. The new award was seen as a way to guarantee that blockbuster movies, like the Marvel, Star Wars and DC Universe films, as well as surprise hits like A Quiet Place and Crazy Rich Asians, would be assured of air time on the broadcast.

But the announcement of the new award was met with an immediate wave of criticism. "The film business passed away today with the announcement of the 'popular' film Oscar," Rob Lowe tweeted. "It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration." Critics of the idea variously complained that creating a new Oscar was akin to asking popular films to sit at the kids' table, while others argued it would devalue the eventual winner of the best picture Oscar.

This season, Black Panther was emerging as a possible test case for the new pop Oscar. Undeniably popular — the pic has grossed $1.3 billion worldwide — it has also been critically applauded, earning a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Early handicapping has put it in the running for a best picture nomination, and while the Academy said a film could be eligible in both the best picture and best popular movie categories, some warned that a movie like Black Panther's best picture prospects could be impacted negatively if  Academy members were suddenly offered the option of voting for it as best popular film. The pic's star Chadwick Boseman told THR, "There's no campaign [that we are mounting] for popular film; like, if there's a campaign, it's for best picture and that's all there is to it."

Even those who supported the idea of the new Oscar — including those inside the Academy — were hard-pressed to describe the rules and voting process that should be used to decide the winner of the category.

In announcing that it was setting the award aside for the moment, the Academy said that it would continue with other changes intended to keep the upcoming Oscar show from running over three hours. As previously announced, it said that not all of the 24 Oscar categories will be presented live — instead, six to eight categories will be presented at the Dolby Theatre during commercial breaks and then edited versions of the presentations will air later in the broadcast. It is expected that the crafts categories as well as the three short-film categories will be relegated to the non-live presentations, but the Academy said Thursday that the affected categories would rotate from year to year, presumably so that none of the crafts branches feel they are being permanently moved to the commercial-break status.

Also as previously announced, the 2020 Oscars are moving to an earlier date on the calendar. Instead of taking place toward the end of February, as has been the recent tradition, the 92nd Oscars will be held on Feb. 9, 2020.

To meet that earlier date, the Academy announced key dates for the 2019-2020 awards season. Its Governors Awards will be held Nov. 16, 2019. Nominations voting will open Jan. 2, 2020, and close Jan. 7, with the nominations to be announced Jan. 13. The Academy's annual nominees luncheon will be held Jan. 27, 2020. Final voting will begin Jan. 30 and conclude Feb. 4, 2020.

Because of the new compressed schedule, beginning in 2020, the Academy will move its Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony to June. The Sci-Tech Awards, at which the Academy honors technological achievements, have traditionally been held two weeks ahead of the Academy Awards. But the Academy said that since the technologies involved do not represent achievements within a specific awards year, it is able to hold that ceremony later in the year.

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