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Oscars Drops 'Popular Film' Category

Don't think of it as a reversal.

Think of it as the first act of a movie in which the lead — an incredibly attractive, symmetrically faced character — is up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Except in this version, that handsome-yet-relatable hero is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The challenge it faces is trying to make the sluggish annual Oscar ceremony a bit more lively. Only, it's meeting a lot of resistance.

On Wednesday, the Academy announced in a statementthat it is dropping the widely criticized "popular film" category it introduced less than a month ago from the 2019 awards, saying it has determined the award "merits further study."

"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 in the statement.

The new category was panned by members and the public, who complained the change would be damaging to the industry by pandering to pedestrian tastes.

Ratings for the 2018 awards dropped to an all-time low — just 26.5 million viewers tuned in. That represents a 19 percent fall from 2017 numbers.

Another knock against the new category has been the argument that movies such as megahit Black Panther, which many critics feel is deserving of a best film nomination, would be boxed out of that category, based on strong performance at the box office. As NPR's Eric Deggan reported, there were fears it would segregate popular films from movies considered to be of high quality.

But it's not all about the backlash, according to the Academy. It's also about the timing.

"The Academy recognized that implementing any new award nine months into the year creates challenges for films that have already been released," the Academy said in a statement.

According to the The Hollywood Reporter:

"[The Academy] 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."

Despite the hiccup, the Academy noted the Board of Governors "continues to be actively engaged in discussions, and will examine and seek additional input regarding this category."

"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," the Academy statement said.

Forthcoming changes include limiting the awards show to three hours.

The 91st Oscars will be awarded on Feb. 24.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.