The Oscars’ new Popular Film category has proved not very popular after all. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday that it will not introduce the new award, which would have been “designed around achievement in popular film,” at the 2019 ceremony as it had previously planned. “The Academy recognized that implementing any new award nine months into the year creates challenges for films that have already been released,” the body said in a statement. “The Board of Governors continues to be actively engaged in discussions, and will examine and seek additional input regarding this category.”
The Popular Film category was announced at the beginning of August as part of a series of changes coming to the ceremony, including a shorter, three-hour telecast where some awards will be presented during commercial breaks. The Academy had not yet announced criteria for what would make a film “popular” enough to compete for the new award or what qualities nominees should be judged on (though we at Slate had some ideas). That made it difficult for filmmakers to know whether their film would be qualified for the category or how to go about campaigning for the award, especially if their film was released before the Academy’s announcement. “Challenges,” indeed.
To be clear, this news doesn’t mean the category is completely dead, only that it will require “further discussions” before it is fully implemented. That bodes well for Black Panther’s chances of a Best Picture nod; the new category was widely seen as a way to bolster the movie’s chances of being nominated (and probably winning) an Oscar, given that the Academy’s track record with diversity is shaky and superhero flicks are seldom recognized. Now, Black Panther will at least be judged on its own merit rather than have to settle for a second-class victory.
The Academy Awards will take place Feb. 9 and will be broadcast on ABC.