By Michael Wahle
When the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences announced its intention this past August to add a new category to the annual Oscar Awards that honors “achievement in popular film,” it essentially confirmed a suspicion we’ve all had for years: the Academy is a panic-stricken organization in the midst of a dire identity crisis.
The Academy’s utterly tone deaf “let’s give the rabble some leftover cake” suggestion exposed its total lack of confidence in the current state of the Oscars. This truth was accentuated even further when, less than a month after the announcement, the Academy caved to the overwhelming public ire it provoked by rescinding the category, claiming that the idea “merits further study” (or more accurately, a longer look in the mirror).
Indeed, the Academy wants so badly for us, the moviegoing public, to see it as the young trailblazer kicking down the doors, but it knows all too well that we instead perceive it as the stodgy old man yelling at us to get off his lawn. And with the Golden Globes (hosted each year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association), which simultaneously honors both film and television, gaining more and more clout every year, it legitimizes a question that was once seen as preposterous.
Has the Golden Globes surpassed the Oscars as the preeminent Hollywood awards ceremony?
Personally, I have a hard time believing that, for the nominees, an Oscar win will ever be anything less than the highest honor in Hollywood and that a Golden Globe win will ever be more than satisfying gravy. (However, it wasn’t so long ago that I would have had a hard time believing that the entertainment industry as we know it would be forever changed by the DVD envelopes my grandparents were sending in the mail to Netflix).
But the Golden Globes are able to creep closer and closer to the Oscars in status due to two distinct advantages it holds over its revered predecessor. For one, it joyfully celebrates this new era of streaming content, whereas the Academy, clearly intimidated by the rapid rise of streaming content, fights it like the plague. But perhaps more importantly, the Golden Globes so naturally honors box office smashes and “fun-for-the-whole-family” fare (i.e. the Mary Poppins Returns of the world) that are also artistic enough to earn a place at the table; it, unlike the Oscars, doesn’t discriminate between popcorn and prestige.
And while the fact that the Oscars take place after the Globes was once seen as a “save the best for last” advantage, it has, in recent years, put the Academy in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” position. This year, for example, the Hollywood Foreign Press has nominated Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and Netlfix’s foreign language sensation Roma. As evidenced by the maligned “Popular Film” category suggestion, the Academy is scared to death it won’t follow suit. If it doesn’t, the resulting backlash will, for obvious reasons, be devastating. But if it does, the public will cry “they just did that because they thought they had to.” It’s an unenviable hole to be stuck in, but make no mistake, it’s a hole that the Academy itself has spent years digging with its own shovel.
So while the answer to the question of the Golden Globes surpassing the Oscars in relevance is still “no,” the Academy’s noticeable discomfort in its own skin suggests it’s not the resounding “no” it used to be. At the moment, it’s more accurately a “not yet.”