Laura Dern and Steven Spielberg Think the 'Best Popular Film' Oscar Is a Dumb Idea Too

Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Image: Disney

Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its plans to backtrack on introducing the new “Best Popular Film” category after the internet, and a good chunk of Hollywood, exploded in a fit of bemused rage over the implications of the addition.


The general consensus amongst the public is that the new category was more or less the Academy attempting to throw a halfhearted bone to films like Black Panther that, while critically-acclaimed and financially successful, aren’t typically thought of as prestige films. Despite this being a very logical train of thought, it seems not to have occurred to the Academy’s leadership. In an interview with Deadline, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said that she was genuinely shocked by the backlash:

“I was surprised. I am always surprised, including many times over the last several years, at the passion for the Oscars that people have, and I am heartened by it. It is still true every single time from whatever initiative we undertake or the Oscars — the responses we get from around the world, it’s stunning.”

While Hudon might have been surprised, the New York Times reports that a number of Academy members, including Laura Dern and Steven Spielberg, were not—and made a point of voicing their beliefs that the new category should not be added at a Tuesday meeting where members took a vote on the decision. The report says Dern “adamantly opposed” and Spielberg “was uncomfortable with plans to introduce the category at the coming Oscars.”

The Academy’s backed itself into something of a weird corner with this whole fiasco, because even though the Best Popular Film Oscar won’t be given out at the next ceremony, Hudson says it hasn’t abandoned the idea entirely. Going forward, the Academy will have to be very careful about how it ultimately decides to define the category if it wants to save face and demonstrate that people were wrong to turn their noses up at the idea.

Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.



One thing my film professor said that’s stuck with me over the past couple of decades is that Hollywood has always been driven by anxieties over self-esteem and relevance. They could make nothing but comedies with ex-SNL stars in fat suits and movies in which Bruce Willis blows up submarines full of terrorists and turn a steady profit, year in and out. But they also wanted to make serious movies, whether that meant literary adaptations or historical epics. In the mid-‘90s, it seemed like there was a new Jane Austen movie coming out every other month. Was there an increased demand for Austen projects among the general public? Probably not, but the studios had decided that attaching her name to a movie automatically increased its prestige value, made it seem important, like art.

Those are the kinds of movies that the Academy still wants to recognize, even if nobody goes to Best Picture winners like they used to. And the popularity and general critical acclaim for something like Black Panther threatens that model. If no one is seeing the prestige movies, if they’re losing to movies based on comic books, then the industry’s whole modus operandi is in question. Hence the ass-saving move of trying to separate Best Picture into “popular” and, uh, “good” categories.