The Kevin Hart Oscar Host Scandal Shows the Academy Must Enter the 21st Century

“One word: plastics,” the guy says to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” “Social media,” we say to the Academy.

The Academy of Motion Arts & Sciences has a “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” problem. There seems to be a profound disconnect between this august Beverly Hills institution — which promotes Hollywood to the world every year via the Oscar telecast — and the public. And that gap is widening, which anyone can see on Twitter.

Millions of people around the world still care about the Oscars. But the Academy keeps running into a messaging problem, from hiring bad boy Brett Ratner back in 2011 –who resigned over homophobic comments on the Howard Stern show, followed by his would-be host Eddie Murphy — to the “Best Popular Film” idea, which was swiftly shot down.

The Academy keeps making decisions without thinking through how they will play not only in the public arena, but with their own members. This doesn’t come down to how they handle their public relations. It’s a more profound issue. It’s a question of not taking their PR seriously enough to think ahead and comprehend how their news will play–to look at the 21st century 3D chess game that is social media.

It’s like the Academy president John Bailey (a cerebral cinematographer born in 1942) is Wreck-It-Ralph, stepping gingerly out of an old arcade game onto the big gleaming internet. Anyone who looks at Film Twitter every day could see how the news of Kevin Hart as Oscar host was playing with Gay Twitter. The Academy seemed unfazed at the initial reaction to Hart. He had dealt with his anti-gay slurs back in 2015, it was done. They loved his movie star status, eagerness to host, and 34.6 million Twitter followers, and were excited by his ability to grow the dwindling audience for ABC’s Oscar show.

In fact, Hart gets social media far more than the Academy does. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, things don’t just die down and fade away. They go viral and spread–exponentially. At the end of Thursday, after Bailey emerged from the cocoon of an afternoon of Academy Museum meetings, the Academy responded to mounting pressure–also from their own members –and asked for an apology from Hart.

That was something he wasn’t willing to give. To his credit, Hart understood when to bail and stop the damage. (He may have been unwilling to risk losing any of his hard-won fans.) Some people were impressed with how he handled the situation. “He was articulate about how people grow,” said one member of the Academy producer’s branch. “He was behaving with integrity. He should have been allowed to host the Oscars.”

The only way that was going to happen was for a deliberate and sophisticated outreach and candidate vetting ahead of the announcement. The Academy needed to line up their allies and supporters, check in with GLAAD, forecast what could happen and manage it in advance. Or recognize that Hart wasn’t such a good idea after all.

When the trades complained that they were taking too long to pick a host–because they couldn’t find one who would say ‘yes’–the Academy defensively jumped into action and announced their pick. Too soon, it turns out.

Kevin Hart Confirms He’s Hosting The Oscars

Kevin Hart, whom Deadline earlier today revealed as a contender to host the 91st Academy Awards, just confirmed that he’s got the gig.
“For years I have been asked if I would ever host the Oscars and my answer was always the same…I sa…

Kevin Hart, whom Deadline earlier today revealed as a contender to host the 91st Academy Awards, just confirmed that he’s got the gig. “For years I have been asked if I would ever host the Oscars and my answer was always the same…I said that it would be the opportunity of a lifetime for me as a comedian and that it will happen when it's suppose to,” Hart wrote in an Instagram post. “I am so happy to say that the day has finally come for me to host the Oscars.” The Academy…

Oscar Host Watch Continues, But It Worked Just Fine Without One

While waiting for word of the next Oscar host — an announcement would seem due any day from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — we got to wondering how, exactly, things worked on those dimly recalled “no-host” broadcasts of so…

While waiting for word of the next Oscar host — an announcement would seem due any day from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — we got to wondering how, exactly, things worked on those dimly recalled "no-host" broadcasts of some half-century ago. Based on some quick research at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, the answer seems to be: surprisingly well. According to the record books, the Oscars survived three consecutive televised ceremonies — from…

Academy Museum Fundraising Stalls As Opening Date Nears

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is still more than $100 million short of its fundraising goal as it nears its opening date, according to a new financial report. The museum is now under construction on Wilshire Boulevard, and is supposed to open s…

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is still more than $100 million short of its fundraising goal as it nears its opening date, according to a new financial report. The museum is now under construction on Wilshire Boulevard, and is supposed to open sometime next year. But according to financial disclosures prepared by the Academy, […]

African-American Film Critics Association Partners With AMPAS For Career Summit

The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has partnered with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in For the Academy’s Careers in Film Summit in Atlanta. The summit will take place November 3 at SCADshow.
This marks AMPAS&#…

The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has partnered with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in For the Academy’s Careers in Film Summit in Atlanta. The summit will take place November 3 at SCADshow. This marks AMPAS’ first educational outreach in the Atlanta area, which has quickly become an epicenter for film production. The event will feature three moderated panel discussions with working Academy members and film professionals intended to…

Donna Gigliotti To Produce 91st Oscars; Glenn Weiss Is Co-Producer

And the Oscar producing gig goes to … Donna Gigliotti. The veteran producer won the Best Picture Academy Award for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and has been nominated three times since, for The Reader, Silver Linings Playbook and Hidden Figur…

And the Oscar producing gig goes to … Donna Gigliotti. The veteran producer won the Best Picture Academy Award for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and has been nominated three times since, for The Reader, Silver Linings Playbook and Hidden Figures. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also said today that Glenn Weiss — who famously proposed to his girlfriend during his acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards last month — will co-produce and direct the Academy Awards…

Film Academy Raising Dues For Voting Members; Will Generate $800,000 In Added Revenue

EXCLUSIVE: It will soon cost a little more to vote for the Oscars – $100 a year more in Academy membership dues beginning this fall, which will generate more than $800,000 in additional revenue this year alone for the Academy of Motion Picture Ar…

EXCLUSIVE: It will soon cost a little more to vote for the Oscars – $100 a year more in Academy membership dues beginning this fall, which will generate more than $800,000 in additional revenue this year alone for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Emails sent this week to Academy members notified them that the Board of Governors has voted to raise the annual dues of voting members from the current $350 to $450 "to bring you more benefits and programs." The…

Tipping Point Or Turning Point? The Next Oscar Producer Will Tell

Pity the next Oscar producer(s), if and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets around to deciding who’s in charge of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony on February 24. He, she or they will inherit a show that is either at a turni…

Pity the next Oscar producer(s), if and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets around to deciding who’s in charge of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony on February 24. He, she or they will inherit a show that is either at a turning point or at a tipping point — coming back from the brink, or going down the tubes. And the producer, who customarily has a very large part in the choice of a host, will be celebrated or condemned on February 25 for having saved…

Motion Picture Academy Launches Program to Boost Women Filmmakers

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the launch of Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative, designed to create opportunities for female filmmakers to connect, share their stories and celebrate inclusion. The program consists of …

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the launch of Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative, designed to create opportunities for female filmmakers to connect, share their stories and celebrate inclusion. The program consists of the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, the Academy Directory and annual events, which this year will take place […]

Movie Academy Sets Careers In Film Summit; AFM Lines Up Speakers; Napa Valley Film Festival Slate – Film Briefs

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present its fourth annual Careers in Film Summit on Saturday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, followed by summits in Atlanta on November 3, London on November 12, and New York in April…

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present its fourth annual Careers in Film Summit on Saturday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, followed by summits in Atlanta on November 3, London on November 12, and New York in April 2019. The events will give high school and college students the opportunity to learn about careers in the industry with panels featuring Academy governors and members and industry professionals. The Los Angeles panelists…

Student Academy Awards: USC Tops List Of 19 Winners

Nineteen filmmakers have won this year’s Student Academy Awards, including four from USC. Past recipients of the annual honors include Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, John Lasseter and Trey Parker, and winners have gone on to receive 59 Oscar nominations a…

Nineteen filmmakers have won this year's Student Academy Awards, including four from USC. Past recipients of the annual honors include Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, John Lasseter and Trey Parker, and winners have gone on to receive 59 Oscar nominations and won or shared 11 awards. The winners revealed Wednesday will participate in a week of industry activities culminating in the 45th Student Academy Awards ceremony October 11 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills…

Peter Bart: Academy Pushed The Envelope Too Far, Scratches Oscar Popularity Contest

Having been a member of the Academy for several decades, I find myself suddenly embarrassed to admit it. The Academy made a grand, if puzzling, announcement last month, but now has decided to disavow it. Its board of governors, having watched Academy C…

Having been a member of the Academy for several decades, I find myself suddenly embarrassed to admit it. The Academy made a grand, if puzzling, announcement last month, but now has decided to disavow it. Its board of governors, having watched Academy CEO Dawn Hudson crawl out on a limb, at this week's board meeting decided to saw it off. The issue, of course, focuses on the Academy's decision to award a new Oscar to this year's "most popular" film — this in addition to…

How the Academy Fumbled the Push for Best Popular Film

President John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson haven’t given up on the controversial category, which Bailey said is meant for “all kinds of films.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors is a collection of three high-profile leaders from each of 17 branches, plus three more minority reps, president John Bailey, and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. Put 54 voices in a room, and you’re bound to be herding cats.

Bailey is a 76-year-old cinematographer (“Ordinary People”) who is used to walking onto a set with authority, commanding his troops, and deferring to one person: the director. Getting an unwieldy group to come to a consensus proved a challenge. He pushed for the new Best Popular Film category that, he said, had nothing to do with Oscar-night ratings. He insisted on that point in a September 6 phone interview, the day the Academy announced it would postpone implementing the new category and continue trying to define what exactly it could be.

The best way to get this new category across would have been to define it from the get-go. Knowing what they were talking about would allow Academy members to debate its merits. With only speculation to draw on, this vague announcement went south, fast. Some suggested ABC and Marvel owner Disney orchestrated it to benefit “Black Panther.” Others accused the Academy of shunting the popular Ryan Coogler film into a lesser category.

Hudson and Bailey stepped back and waited out the storm until they figured out what they were doing. “We heard a lot from our members,” said Hudson. “A lot of them understood that the intention of the award was to honor excellence across a wider scope of filmmaking. That intention wasn’t clear in our announcement. I understand people began to speculate that it was something else. We wanted to go back. We want to make sure we get this right and achieve what we set out to achieve in the first place, which was to organically honor a wider spectrum of films.”

Academy governors Carol Littleton and Gregory Nava flank John Bailey in Telluride.

Pamela Gentile

At Labor Day Weekend’s Telluride Film Festival, where the Academy throws an annual party, Bailey, Hudson, Kimberly Peirce, Sid Ganis, Gregory Nava and other board members — as well as  former board-member Kathleen Kennedy, who will accept the Irving Thalberg award at the Governors Awards this November — engaged in many conversations about how to define Best Popular Film. They didn’t see a clear path to solving the divisive issue, and so it was no surprise that the board backed away from it in its September 5 meeting.

For his part, Bailey still likes this category, and sees no problem with it. But “the majority of the board made that decision,” he said, acknowledging the intense blowback. But mainly, said Bailey, “it was still not having defined a consensus point on what the terms were, the qualifications. Fifty-four governors, all of whom are high profile, involved in productions, it was hard to get a full amount of information regarding how the award might be defined or presented. The discussion and the narrative of the award kept shifting as well. It was a double moving entity and the board just felt it needed to be more clarified and defined.”

Bailey gets hot under the collar about the need to accept change for the Academy. “The concept of these awards is not an iconic ritual enacted year after year in the same way,” he said. “The history of the Academy and this award is a constantly moving entity, awards have been added and dropped, branches have been added and dropped. It’s a living entity, as is the entire concept of any art form, especially motion pictures, by virtue of being so technologically defined.”

He said the category was not necessarily meant to honor the studio blockbusters. “All kinds of films, for the last number of years, have fallen out of high visibility. For Academy consideration, so many small, wonderful films are not the films most audiences are going to see. There’s been a disconnect that has evolved in the way studios decided to make movies or not make movies. To focus on this new award as if it is somehow oriented primarily toward big-action films, it might be a part of it, but it’s about films that have not been recognized, not been seen by people. The last three Academy award-winners were not films large numbers of people were going to see, which is unfortunate. They should have been seen the same way by the same numbers of people that go to see ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Black Panther.'”

That said, all three of those winners — “Spotlight,” “Moonlight,” and “The Shape of Water” — received huge boosts in attendance from winning Best Picture. That’s one of the major benefits of winning this icon of excellence.

Hudson and Bailey aren’t giving up on the Best Popular Film Oscar. “It isn’t the idea so much as they way they communicated it,” said one publicist. Many would agree, although there are many who do see it as a ratings grab at the expense of the Oscars’ primary goal: to celebrate the best in motion-picture achievement. Many are hoping the Popular Film award just goes away.

“We’ve had ongoing meetings and conversations with our members, studios, and filmmakers,” said Hudson. “And announcing this new award nine months into the awards year was more problematic for a lot of people. It posed more difficulties.”

One thing most Academy members agree on is pushing the 2020 date up to February 9, the earliest ever, and shortening the show to three hours, editing down many of the crafts acceptances taped live during the commercial breaks, rotating the ones who get to accept live each year. “The award season is so long, it’s fatiguing,” said Hudson.

Oscars: Academy CEO Dawn Hudson Says Board Still Is Committed To “Principle” Of Including Audience-Friendly Films, Was Surprised At Backlash

Despite today’s announcement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the new category for what had been referred to as “popular” movies was being “postponed” and not presented for this year’s Oscars…

Despite today’s announcement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the new category for what had been referred to as “popular” movies was being “postponed” and not presented for this year’s Oscars, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson assures Deadline that the Board of Governors still is committed to the basic principles of it. “The board governors are committed to this principle of just slightly widening the scope of films that we're honoring for excellence,” she…

Oscars Puts Most Popular Movie Category On Hold; Won’t Be Part Of 2019 Ceremony

Less than a month after announcing a plethora of changes to the annual Oscars ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said today that one of them, a controversial new Most Popular Film category, will now not be a part of the 2019 show…

Less than a month after announcing a plethora of changes to the annual Oscars ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said today that one of them, a controversial new Most Popular Film category, will now not be a part of the 2019 show as had been planned. “The Academy recognized that implementing any new award nine months into the year creates challenges for films that have already been released,” said AMPAS on Thursday of the course change for the 91st…

2018 Academy Governors Awards Include Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, and Cicely Tyson

Steven Spielberg’s longtime PR man Marvin Levy is the first publicist to win an Oscar, while Kennedy-Marshall are the first married team.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted for this year’s Governors Awards. Honorary Oscar winners are publicist Marvin Levy, composer Lalo Schifrin, and actress Cicely Tyson. The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award will go to producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshal, all presented at the Academy’s 10th Annual Governors Awards on Sunday, November 18, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center.

This was a relatively happy and carefree decision. Still on the table is the fate of the Best Popular Film award, which was the subject of much discussion at the Telluride Film Festival, where the Academy throws an annual party. Lucasfilm president Kennedy, who is no longer on the Board, wondered if it was an idea worth saving.

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, a bust of the motion picture executive, is presented to creative producers “whose body of work reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”

Kennedy is the first woman to win the Thalberg award, and she and her husband are the first married couple to win it. Launched in 1991, the Kennedy/Marshall producing partnership has yielded Best Picture nominations for M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999), Gary Ross’ “Seabiscuit” (2003), Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” (2005) and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008). Kennedy/Marshall Company productions also include “Congo,” all five “Bourne” films, and Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

Prior to forming Kennedy/Marshall, the duo co-founded Amblin Productions with Spielberg, sharing a Best Picture nomination for “The Color Purple” (1985). Additionally, Marshall received a Best Picture nomination for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), while Kennedy was nominated in the same category for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), “War Horse” (2011) and “Lincoln” (2012).

Obviously, Hollywood power brokers Kennedy and Marshall have a close relationship with Spielberg, who has enjoyed a four-decade working relationship with the first publicist to win an Oscar, Marvin Levy. The Honorary Award, an Oscar statuette, is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”

Levy, who began his career in publicity working for MGM in New York before joining Columbia Pictures in Hollywood on the advertising side, so impressed Spielberg with his work on the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that he worked closely as his personal marketing and publicity man up to the present, holding positions at Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Studios, and Amblin Partners. He commandeered publicity campaigns for such films as “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” “Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “American Beauty,” “Gladiator,” and “Lincoln.”

Argentinian composer Schifrin studied classical music and jazz in France before beginning to write scores for film in ’50s Buenos Aires. He has written scores for more than 100 films, including “The Cincinnati Kid,” “Bullitt,” “Dirty Harry,” “Enter the Dragon,” and “Rush Hour.” His theme for the television series “Mission: Impossible” is iconic to this day, and included in the Tom Cruise franchise installments. Schifrin has received six Oscar nominations: for the original scores for “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “The Fox” (1968), “Voyage of the Damned” (1976) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979), the original song “People Alone” from “The Competition” (1980), and the adaptation score for “The Sting II” (1983).

Cicely Tyson69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2017

Cicely Tyson

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Raised in Harlem, Tyson began her career as a model and a theater actress, appearing both on Broadway and Off-Broadway. After playing small roles in feature films and television, she was cast as Portia in “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” in 1968. Four years later, she received an Academy Award® nomination for her leading performance in “Sounder.” Her other notable film credits include “The River Niger,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “The Help,” “Alex Cross,” and “Last Flag Flying.”

PGA Awards Stakes Out 2020 Date As Oscar Move Leaves Guilds Scrambling

The Producers Guild has gotten in front of a pack of now-scrambling guilds in squaring dates for the 2020 awards season, a necessity after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ move this month to shift the 2020 Oscars back two weeks.
T…

The Producers Guild has gotten in front of a pack of now-scrambling guilds in squaring dates for the 2020 awards season, a necessity after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ move this month to shift the 2020 Oscars back two weeks. The guild said today that its 31st annual PGA Awards is set for January 18, 2020, at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The Oscars date change — the 92nd Oscars will be held February 9, 2020, a shift from the previously set…

Movie Academy Launches Open-Source Software Hub

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Linux Foundation have launched the Academy Software Foundation, a forum for open source software developers in the motion picture and broader media industries. The new hub is designed to share res…

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Linux Foundation have launched the Academy Software Foundation, a forum for open source software developers in the motion picture and broader media industries. The new hub is designed to share resources and collaborate on technologies for image creation, visual effects, animation and sound. "We are thrilled to partner with The Linux Foundation for this vital initiative that fosters more innovation, more…

New Academy Software Foundation Seeks Major Tech Advances

The Academy and Linux Foundation are betting that making it easier to produce new software will make the industry more efficient.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Linux Foundation have launched the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF), a new nonprofit organization devoted to tech advancement in image creation, visual effects, animation, and sound. The focus will be on expanding open source software (OSS) development, once proprietary, for greater standardization, collaboration, and efficiency.

Founding ASWF members include Animal Logic, Autodesk, Blue Sky Studios, Cisco, DNEG, DreamWorks, Epic Games, Foundry, Google, Intel, SideFX, Walt Disney Studios (Disney Animation, Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, and Marvel), and Weta Digital.

“We are thrilled to partner with The Linux Foundation for this vital initiative that fosters more innovation, more collaboration, more creativity among artists and engineers in our community,” said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “The Academy Software Foundation is core to the mission of our Academy: promoting the arts and sciences of motion pictures.”

“Open source software has enabled developers and engineers to create the amazing visual effects and animation that we see every day in the movies, on television and in video games,”added Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation. “With the Academy Software Foundation, we are providing a home for this community of open source developers to collaborate and drive the next wave of innovation across the motion picture and broader media industries.”

SUPER CYCLE – When Helen aka Elastigirl is called on to help bring Supers back in “Incredibles 2,” she employs a brand-new, specially designed, state-of-the-art Elasticycle. Written and directed by Brad Bird and featuring the voice of Holly Hunter as Helen, Disney•Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” busts into cinemas on July 13, 2018. ©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights reserved.

“Incredibles 2”

Pixar

The ASWF was the result of a two-year study by the Academy’s Science and Technology Council into the use of OSS across the industry. “Some of the core technologies that the industry relied on weren’t thriving anymore in terms of source code development and infrastructure,” said Rob Bredow, head of ILM and a member of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council,​ Open Source Investigation Committee.

“The Academy assembled technology leaders from the industry, which had participated in open source, and tried to assess what could be improved,” added Bredow, who will keynote SIGGRAPH 2018 in Vancouver on August 13. “The Linux Foundation, which had tremendous success problem solving open source issues [with its pervasive computing platform] and setting up infrastructures for various industries, joined forces and provided consultation.”

While 80 percent of tech leaders surveyed used open source software, several problems were identified, including project inefficiencies, problems getting software to run together on incompatible systems, and licensing and other corporate  barriers. “Thus, with the help of the Academy Software Foundation, developers won’t have to wait so long for approvals and can create code more efficiently,” Bredow said.

Although there have been great strides in file formats, rendering object manipulation, and color management, there’s still the dilemma for software developers of figuring out what to keep and what to share. “Just being able to have the leadership of the Academy to say, ‘Hey, it’s now OK for you all to talk to each other and make these decisions and commit this code,’ will help us tell better stories,” said Zemlin.

Added Andy Maltz, managing director, of the academy’s Science and Technology Council: “This is the first time that the Academy has ever lent its name to an entity it doesn’t fully control…ensuring that there’s a very healthy motion picture production ecosystem, and that movies will continue to evolve and innovate going far into the future.”

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How to Make the Oscars More Popular Without Ruining Them: A Modest Proposal

There’s a way to restore mainstream films to the Best Picture race, if the Academy is willing to consider it.

Let’s not kid ourselves: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences created a separate but equal Best Picture award with the category “Most Popular Film,” and with that made the single most stupid and suicidal decision in the organization’s history. (Not the worst, however; that honor goes to accepting the blacklist in the 1950s.) But instead of condemning this move, as many have done already, let’s consider what the Academy really wants to achieve.

For a decade, the Academy struggled to become more reflective of popular tastes. The expansion of the Best Picture category to allow as many as 10 nominees — itself considered a radical move when initiated for the 2009 awards — was intended to let popular studio hits become more prominent contenders.

As a result, more studio movies were nominated, including “Toy Story 3,” “The Help,” “American Sniper,” “Mad Max – Fury Road,” “The Martian,” and “Hidden Figures.” However, in the last 10 years, the winners only became more specialized. Since the expansion, only “The King’s Speech” and “Argo” had a domestic gross over $100 million, and neither were blockbuster titles. The last four winners, even with the Oscar boost, struggled to reach even half that.

So if the Academy intended to leave more room for mainstream movies by increasing the nominee slots, it didn’t work. Back when only five films could make the cut, in most years at least two were mainstream titles known to the wider public. Those numbers haven’t changed since the expansion; last year there was only one, with “Dunkirk.”

None of this is to disdain the Academy’s goals of better representation, or possibly wins, for films that resonate with the wider public. Even if it meant different winners and nominees, I respect the idea of a more-level playing field that would allow films like “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” to be more competitive. But the Best Popular Film is not the path to success.

That said: The Academy can move toward what they want, within the current system; it only needs to be tweaked a little. Here’s how in three easy steps:

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Marvel/Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (9360960bz)Ryan Coogler, Lupita Nyong'o"Black Panther" Film - 2018

Ryan Coogler, Lupita Nyong’o on “Black Panther” set.

Marvel/Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

1. Return Best Picture to five nominees.

That’s what it had for more than 60 years, and what most Oscar categories have. And then…

2. Make the nominations non-preferential.

In the system that the Academy jettisoned in 2009, Academy members listed five choices for nomination, in order of preference. The system after 2009 still called for listing nominees by preference, initially up to 10 but later revised to a maximum of five, again ranked in order. In the system I propose, members choose five nominees and the order doesn’t matter; each selection carries equal weight. Accountants tally the selections; the five with the most votes receive nominations.

The preferential system has been part of the Academy process for decades; it was meant to allow contenders with passionate support a shot at nomination even if they weren’t widely seen. However, it’s the bigger films that now concern the Academy; case in point is the failure of “Dark Knight” to chart in 2008. Anecdotal evidence suggests it had wide support, with many members listing it fourth or fifth on their ballots. “Skyfall” and “Wonder Woman” faced similar challenges. I believe if members listed five unranked films, more mainstream movies would make the nomination cut. 

3. Make the final ballot voting for Best Picture non-preferential.

When the Academy announced the expansion in 2009, the law of unintended consequences came into play. The Academy realized that with 10 nominees, and the winner determined by a plurality, the Best Picture could go to a film with 15 percent of the votes or less. Such a small minority is less of an issue when there are only five nominees.

Since the nominee expansion, preferential voting likely resulted in a different Best Picture winner multiple times since the number of nominees has expanded than the old system would have yielded. Why? Because historically Best Director usually matched with Best Picture. And Best Director, with five nominees, is chosen by the traditional, non-preferential route.

Historically, Best Picture winners align with Best Director winners, but three of the last five years have seen a split between Best Picture and Best Director. And in each case, it was the smaller, specialized film that won Picture with the help of preferential  (“12 Years a Slave,” “Spotlight,” “Moonlight”), while the $100 million-plus hit won Director when it was a straight most votes out of five (“Gravity,” “The Revenant,” “La La Land”).

Had the system I propose been in effect, I suspect the nominees would have been more populist, and some winners also in some cases better known. Would the “best picture” have won? I might prefer “Moonlight” to “La La Land,” others “12 Years a Slave” to “Gravity.” But the Academy is correct that if Best Picture strays too far from popular choices, Oscars will have trouble surviving.

Say “Black Panther” was released last year and was one of five nominees, with the other four “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird,” and “Dunkirk.” With no preferential in the final five, I suspect “Panther” would have had an excellent chance of winning.

The Board of Governors announcement may be hasty and short-sighted, but they committed to this new award and that makes revisions tricky at best. But if they want to achieve their goal of more popular films receiving greater prominence in the Best Picture category, and a better chance of winning, this might be a better way to do so. It is certainly worth considering.

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Our Pete Hammond Tries To Make Sense Of Oscar’s Moment Of Reckoning

I have been on vacation in Hawaii this week waiting for the hurricane. It missed us but apparently hit the Oscars instead.
Sitting in my beach cabana I made calls and sent emails to see if the perspective from Academy members matched the social media f…

I have been on vacation in Hawaii this week waiting for the hurricane. It missed us but apparently hit the Oscars instead.
Sitting in my beach cabana I made calls and sent emails to see if the perspective from Academy members matched the social media firestorm — and I mean firestorm — aimed at the Oscar’s additions. A new category for “Popular” film; a two-week move backward in the calendar; the telecast downsizing of some undetermined below the line categories.
On the…