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The Death of the Oscars: Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ to blame?

  • Published at 09:57 pm August 12th, 2018

This new category is thought by many to be an honorary category for a film that many Academy members would traditionally not nominate in its coveted Best Picture category

Just three days ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts (AMPAS) proposed the new “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” category in preparation of their annual Oscars ceremony. In an attempt to reach out to the commercial masses, the category will potentially allow any film to be nominated on the merits of popularity and box-office gross over quality and artistry, as per tradition.

With what can only be interpreted as a bid for a rating boost, AMPAS is additionally shifting the date of the ceremony up and shortening its broadcast time with pre-recorded awards for select categories to be shown during commercial breaks. 

Many industry pundits have perceived this change to be a response to the popularity of Marvel’s “Black Panther” earlier this year. This new category is thought by many to be an honorary category for a film that many Academy members would traditionally not nominate in its coveted Best Picture category. A film that nonetheless has had a major cultural impact with profits in excess of a billion dollars, an unprecedented feat considering its predominantly black cast.

The genre of superhero films has traditionally never fared well at the Oscars, with a handful of nominations in the effects or editing categories, with no film of said genre having earned a Best Picture nomination. The closest exception to this being, the Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008) with its eight nominations, critics and audiences expected the success of “Black Panther” to usher in a new age of recognition for a genre of film traditionally marginalized by the Academy. Indeed, the outrage of “The Dark Knight” Best Picture snub prompted the Academy to increase the nominee count from 5 to10 (later rectified to between 5 and 10) to allow more deserving films to be recognized for the award.

The creation of new categories is nothing new for AMPAS, in 2001 the introduction  of the Best Animated Feature opened the doors for animated films to get some Oscar recognition; in its 90 year history, only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture: “Beauty & the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010). It can be surmised that the latter two films were able to get these nods not only due to their exceptional quality but also the increased Best Picture count. As such, the introduction of a new sub-film category has been proven to work in the past and may do so for this so-called “popular film” category.    

For those in favour of the introduction of this newly proposed category, it increases the likelihood for a genre of films to be more easily recognized for a prestigious award like the Oscar statuette. However, some might argue that the introduction of this new category has potential to bring down the prestige of the award; especially if it opens up the floodgates to the many sequels/reboots of studio franchises, which have an increased likelihood of making larger box-office draws. 

Will the Oscars have the same level of prestige if the newest “50 Shades” film was to be nominated for a major award? Will this attempt to appeal to the commercial masses backfire when the latest in the “Transformers” series is up for Oscar consideration?

Marvel’s “Black Panther” does have legitimate claims for Oscar recognition, being the highest-rated superhero film on the popular aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes, it has had a greater cultural impact than many Best Picture winners and nominees of the past; it brings into question what makes a film Oscar-worthy. Many see the introduction of this new category as a threat to a Black Panther Best Picture nomination, as it will likely be uncontested in this new category, one that many people see as an honorary award of lesser prestige than a regular Oscar award. 

The Oscars have been prone to change over its long history; categories have been merged, added and removed keeping up with the times, some changes faring better than others. This new category has all the potential to be a success as other sub-categories have been, it may also be the death of the Oscar and the prestige associated with it.