Three-time Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg and twice-nominated actress Laura Dern, who both sit on the Academy Awards’ Board of Governors, reportedly were among those in opposition of the “Popular Film” category announced just last month, the New York Times reports.
It was learned Thursday the Academy would postpone the controversial category — meant to recognize “outstanding achievement in popular film” — and not include the “popular” Oscar in its upcoming 91st ceremony this February as planned.
Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, both produced by Disney-owned Marvel Studios, were presumed frontrunners for the first-of-its-kind award after the films earned a respective $2.04 billion and $1.34 billion worldwide, making them the biggest earners of 2018.
Variety previously reported Disney and ABC — who are owned by Disney and who air the Academy Awards — pushed for the new category in the wake of steadily slipping ratings.
As reported by the Times Thursday, the 54-member Academy board voted to “rethink” the creation of the category on Tuesday, with the “popular” Oscar backed by organization president John Bailey but “adamantly opposed” by Dern, according to two anonymous board members.
The sources said Spielberg — being a Hollywood heavyweight and as such wielding “enormous influence” — was “uncomfortable” with the plans to introduce the category at the coming Oscars.
Academy chief executive Dawn Hudson acknowledged the “wide range of reactions” to the proposed award in a statement, saying the board recognizes “the need for further discussion with our members.” Hudson told the Times the Academy would continue its efforts to “honor excellence across a wider scope of films.”
“We’ve had a lot of positive comments from members about that principle,” she said. Hudson added while the board believes in the sentiments behind the award — Bailey initially said such a category was “needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world” — a fuzzy initial announcement led to confusion.
“Our intention was always excellence first, but I don’t think that was clear in the initial announcement,” Hudson said. “We want to include a wider scope of films, but making the change nine months into the awards year created anxiety.”
Should the award fall through, at least for 2019, the move would strengthen Black Panther’s chances for a Best Picture nomination instead of an award that some argued was a glorified participation trophy. It was reported last month Disney intends to push the milestone film as a Best Picture hopeful.
“Right now, I think Dawn Hudson would crawl in a hole if Black Panther gets snubbed for Best Picture and winds up landing in the popular film category,” one Oscar consultant told the LA Times. “The funny thing is that Dawn would be way more disappointed than anyone at Marvel.”
Should Black Panther receive a nomination for Hollywood’s most coveted prize, it would mark the first comic book film to accomplish the feat after Warner Bros.-produced films like The Dark Knight and Wonder Woman lobbied for consideration in the Best Picture category.