Oscar organizers retreat on 'popular film' category after backlash

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Academy of Motion Pictures said on Thursday it would not go ahead with its proposed new “popular film” Oscar category at next year’s awards ceremony.

An Oscar statue is seen outside the Dolby Theatre during preparations for the Oscars in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The proposal, announced just a month ago, was met with a huge backlash from the movie industry and film reviewers who said it would create a two-tier system of popular and unpopular films.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in a statement that “implementing any new award nine months into the year creates challenges for films that have already been released” and that the proposal needed further discussion.

It said it would “not present the new Oscars category at the upcoming 91st awards” in February 2019.

“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 Chief Executive Dawn Hudson said in Thursday’s statement.

The idea of a separate category for popular films was widely seen as a bid to increase television viewers for the annual Oscar ceremony. The U.S. audience for the March 2018 ceremony was 26.5 million viewers, the smallest in the awards’ 90-year history

Critics said the idea would pit “popular films,” such as superhero box office hits, against what would be seen as “unpopular,” smaller art house fare.

In recent years, Academy voters have chosen independent films like “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” as best picture winners, rather than box office hits like the “Star Wars” franchise or superhero movies such as 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman.”

The Academy in August sowed confusion by not detailing how it would determine eligibility for which films would compete in the popular film category, as opposed to the traditional best picture race.

On Thursday, the Academy said it would go ahead with plans to shorten the annual awards show to three hours. It said between six and eight categories would be presented during commercial breaks in the televised ceremony, and then edited and aired later in the broadcast.

It did not specify which of the 24 awards handed out at the ceremony would be presented off camera, but said they would be rotated each year. Technical awards such as editing, costumes, and sound are expected to be most affected by the change.

The 2019 Oscar ceremony will take place in Los Angeles on Feb. 24. Campaigning got under way at the Venice Film Festival last week and at the Toronto Film Festival which opens on Thursday.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Diane Craft and Sandra Maler