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What to make of the Oscar changes just announced by the Academy?

I couldn’t wait a day to mull this all over. So, double the posts for today! For those of you not aware, the day started off with the Academy putting forth some major changes to the Oscar telecast. They’re going to be committing to only a three hour show, which in turn will have certain categories given out during commercials, with clips shown later. Those are two of the big things, but the other bombshell was this: the addition of a new category. No, it’s not Best Stunts or Best Cast Ensemble or Best Casting, it’s a still to be determined one citing “Popular” films. It’s a lot to swallow, but I’ll do my best to give you a take on it today…

First off, here is the full press release from newly re-elected Academy President John Bailey announcing the changes:

“Dear Member,

Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.

The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.

Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:

1. A three-hour Oscars telecast

We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.

To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.

2. New award category

We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.

3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars

The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.

The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.

We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.”

Now, what to make of this? Personally, I hate it. The funny thing is, I’ve always been in favor of new categories. Almost any new one that brings in more unique nominees. But go figure, this one and the way it seems to have been generated, just feels icky. Then, there’s the middle finger being given to what I have to imagine are the three Short categories at least, with some technical ones potentially on the commercial break chopping block as well. Hardworking filmmakers and craftspeople who spent their whole lives struggling for this moment will have it shortchanged, and that’s tragic to me.

Beyond the telecast issue, there’s this “popular film” category. Now, as I just mentioned, I’ve long been down for more categories, but not this one, at least in this way. It’s shameless, and actually hurts the nominated movies. Sure, the category will be made up of Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Incredibles 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and A Quiet Place, for example, but good luck having them taken seriously for Best Picture going forward. If this was truly not a ratings grab and about giving bigger titles that only get technical category love a moment in the sun, I’d be fine with it. But, that’s not the case. The Academy is still chasing its tail over the snub of The Dark Knight and all the changes that came from that. This is another example of not knowing how to fix a problem, but blindly trying anyway.

Side note, if this special treatment is the new normal and actually not about ratings, I now want them to add the flip side. Yes, I want Best Under-seen Film (or whatever you’d call it), so work like Disobedience, Hearts Beat Loud, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and You Were Never Really Here can get extra nominations. It’s only fair. But, this isn’t about fair. It’s about ratings. In 2018, less people watch things live. Why go after that elusive beast? The Academy is chasing a dragon that they’ll never catch in the modern age, regardless of what they try.

In the end, it just feels like the Oscars have been cheapened a bit. The new category doesn’t have pure intent, below the line winners will suffer from less of a moment in the sun, and it’s all being done in the service of those who care least about the show. The Academy Awards are a niche item these days. Wouldn’t it be better to serve those who care most about it? The casual viewer will never be won over. That’s how I feel, at least. Maybe when we see this year’s show live, it won’t feel like a big deal? We shall see…

Stay tuned to see how this impacts the Academy Awards going forward!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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