For the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the latest battle between art and commerce seems to have ended in a draw. Earlier this year, the Academy had announced a new “popular” category for the Oscars, which would take into account audience responses and preferences over the professionals and critics who usually decide who gets arguably cinema’s most well-known honour. In light of the backlash that followed from the US film fraternity, including members of the Academy, the decision has been “postponed” and “additional inputs have been sought”.
This sudden urge for a new category has a simple explanation: The viewership for the Oscars has been dropping, and it is likely that a dose of mainstream blockbusters is seen as the prescription to regain eyeballs and ad revenues. But the marketing minds at the Academy seem to have forgotten a basic B-school lesson: Don’t mess with the brand. The mainstream, frankly, makes enough money not to need the stamp of critical approval.
But the solution to the problem of dwindling interest could indeed lie in new categories. It might be a good idea to expand within the liberal, self-congratulatory (and dare we say pretentious) framework that the Oscars have come to exemplify. “Best film based in a conflict zone”, for example, would have the American liberal feel even more righteously virtuous. “Print journalism is real journalism” is also a category that holds promise — both Spotlight and The Post have seen to that, Facebook marketing notwithstanding. And in 2019 and 2020, what better way to fight the power in a big white house that abuses Hollywood in tweet after tweet than with “Best film about a democratic dictator”?