They picked Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas, Crash over Brokeback Mountain, and somehow John C. Reilly has never won an Oscar. (Don’t fight us on that last one, just make it happen.) But in the entire history of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences—better known as AMPAS, the group that does the voting—no decision has been as boneheaded as the one they announced Wednesday via Twitter: a new 25th award for “achievement in popular film,” effective with next February’s show. Reaction was swift and unmerciful online, where film journalists and fans likened it to an MTV Movie Awards–style cheapening.
To understand where the change is coming from, know that it has to do with business: Best Picture winners such as Moonlight and The Shape of Water scare Hollywood, an industry increasingly geared toward developing various cinematic universes. The nearly four-hour telecast (with its tanking ratings) also worries AMPAS. But this decision—one that can still be undone!—is the wrong one. Gaming it out, here are three reasons why AMPAS is about to reap the whirlwind:
Television ratings won’t improve because of it. This is a downward trend that’s been building for years, even with hugely popular films in the mix (Avatar, the Lord of the Rings movies, Gladiator) and sometimes even winning. The viewing decline is more a function of online competition than anything, so the prospect of watching an Avengers sequel take home an Oscar isn’t going to move the needle on a show that already suffers from bloat.
It insults the people who really love Oscars the most: serious film fans. Much has already been said within the last 24 hours about how “popular films” (a metric that presumably will be informed by box office) already get a really sweet award: piles of money. The Oscars, conversely, serve as Hollywood’s best image of itself, even if that sometimes means Argo. An award for popularity not only insults the nominees in other categories (are they suddenly “unpopular?”), it insults the viewership—dwindling though it may be—for liking movies that aren’t quite blockbusters.
The PR nightmare has only just begun. Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Feinberg somewhat naively suggested that the new award would come be known as the “Popcorn Oscar.” Try these on for size: The Dumb Oscar. The Red State Oscar. The Separate But Equal Oscar. Imagine a telecast in which Black Panther (deserving of Oscar nominations in legit categories) wins this sham award and director Ryan Coogler refuses to accept it at the podium, calling it a marginalization. Then imagine other winners following his lead. The spectacle of rejection would make EnvelopeGate look like a well-oiled machine.
Already, cynical theories are forming around the category addition. Perhaps there was private concern that Black Panther wouldn’t make the traditional Best Picture bracket. (If so, this is a lousy way to address that.) There’s also talk of sabotaging the category with abstentions or protest votes: What if Black Panther, A Quiet Place and Mission: Impossible—Fallout were all nominated, but a whisper campaign hoisted Fifty Shades Freed to the victory?
Here’s a better solution: Apologize now and scrap the idea altogether. No one would complain, not even the popular movie makers. Hasn’t anyone in Hollywood heard of reshoots?