Today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences delivered a living, breathing example of taking one step forward and three steps back.  In a big announcement, the Oscars announced sweeping changes to their telecast and structure.

Academy President John Bailey, who was re-elected to a second term, announced to its membership that the show will now include a new category centering around a “popular” film.  No other details were announced regarding eligibility, how many nominees there will be, or if it will only be voted on by the active membership.  Bailey also announced that the 2020 ceremony would air on Feb. 9, leaving many to speculate when will nominees be announced and will Phase 2 be just a mere ten day voting period.  Finally, to encapsulate the Academy’s single worst day since #OscarsSoWhite trended, Bailey stated that they are “planning a more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.”  This means awards will be given out during commercial breaks.

Lots to digest and breakdown.  Here it goes.

END OF AN ERA OF PROGRESS (IT SEEMS)

Former Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs made it her platform to create a more diverse, inclusive Academy.  In the past two years following #OscarsSoWhite, when the Academy failed to nominate any person of color in the acting categories (which it had done over 60 times prior).  With a strict guideline for remaining an active voting member, and inviting over 1,300 new, young, and diverse members, we’ve seen a more dynamic Academy emerge.  Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” both won Best Picture, two films from minority filmmakers.  Also included among these lineups were Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the first Black filmmaker to be nominated for producing, writing, and directing in the same year, and the first to win Original Screenplay.  It should also be noted that during her tenure, three Latinos won Academy Awards for directing.

Evidently, all this progress wasn’t enough for the Academy.  26.5 million viewers in 2018 seem to have set off alarms.  A desperate move to increase ratings has caused a sacrifice in the central value that the Academy embodies.

WHAT DOES “POPULAR” MEAN?

The Academy has been chasing the “people’s movie” to join the Academy lineup heavily since 2008 when Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” failed to make the Best Picture lineup in favor of Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader.”  In 2009, they expanded the Best Picture lineup from five to ten nominees.  When that became too much for voting members, they created a “sliding scale” where any number between 5 and ten can be nominated which has only yielded 8 or 9 nominees over this time.

Looking ahead, the Academy seems to be shivering that Ryan Coogler’s megahit “Black Panther” may be headed for a shutout of some sorts and have taken it upon themselves to create a “pat on the head” category that has no explanation as of yet.  We don’t know if this will be something based on box office, or if it’s voted on by the Academy or public.

Hey Academy!  Do you want more popular films in your lineup?  You are a mixture of studio executives, actors, writers, directors, producers, etc..  Stop turning your nose up at all the genres in which you are presented every year.  We are within a golden age of horror where films like “It Follows” and likely this year “Hereditary” have gone unnoticed.  Make them available to your members and encourage them to see these films, not just the latest from Steven Spielberg.

Move with the evolution of cinema.  Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Studios are offering some of the most innovative films today.  Invite them to the table.  Remember when you expanded the lineup and said now we could see more foreign or even a Documentary movie nominated for Best Picture?  That has yet to happen in the latter’s case with only “Amour” edging its way into a lineup in 2012.

For years many of us Oscar pundits have suggested that if you want to get the public excited about your event, make your nomination announcement a PRIME TIME event, where you introduce the films, nominees, and teach the public what the categories mean and what they represent.  Education about the film industry only exists in the most affluent areas of the country and world.  An inner city kid from the Bronx like myself was never told by any teachers, mentors, or parents what a Sound Editor or Lighting person does and how that could be a potential career for someone who loves movies.  You are about to open up your precious museum that will talk about your 90-year legacy.  Apply that every part of your existence and regain the credibility you so harshly lost earlier today.

Remember how we’ve been beating the drums for new categories for Stunts and Casting?  The Academy spat in all their faces today saying, “you’re not POPULAR enough to add.”

COMMERCIALS ARE FOR CHIT-CHAT NOT HONORING ACHIEVEMENTS

On the laundry list of things the Academy needs to fix, the length of the show was NOT in the Top 100.  Instead of cutting one of the four or five montages they make every year, we are now moving towards someone like Cinematographer Roger Deakins or sound Mixer Kevin O’Connell accepting their awards when no one is watching.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association who hosts the Critics Choice Awards made this a practice for a few years before they moved to the center, which included streaming all the “lesser” awards before the telecast.  You want a way to save on time; we don’t need to see all the Best Original Song nominees on stage, singing their numbers for us.

An Oscar is an honor.  The Twittersphere exploded in picking up on the notion that the three short categories are likely on their way to the Governors Awards.  These have long been considered by many “the categories no one cares about.”  Make the public care!  Make the films available for the public on a streaming service or a TV event leading up to the ceremony.

FEBRUARY 9 WILL EITHER MOVE OTHER AWARD SHOW DATES, OR WE WILL KNOW NOTHING GOING INTO THE NIGHT

Imagine this world:

-Jan. 2 – ALL Oscar voting ballots due
-Jan. 7 – Oscar nominations announced.
-Feb. 1 – Final ballots go out to members.
-Feb. 5 – Final ballots due.
-Feb. 8 – 91st Academy Awards handed out.

This doesn’t seem as bad on paper but now every major guild including BAFTA, ACE, ASC, and more will either need to move before the ceremony to remain relevant or will just be an afterthought of Oscar’s shadow.  Honestly, this is on the bottom of what occurred today.

Feelings are this:  We can only hope that the #FilmTwitter backlash that has erupted from general fans to pundits to the trades will force them to rethink this strategy and get the Academy back on track.

For now, we just sit and wait for the next big bombshell.  Down below are my two initial tweets following the announcement that sums up my thoughts.

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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.