The Academy Awards, in its latest attempt to be mocked by every single person in America, added a new category this week called "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film." Nobody yet knows what this category will be ("Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming," they said), but it seems as if the Academy is responding to last year's TV ratings free fall.
And the reviews are already in:
NBC News: "Allegedly part of a push for inclusivity, this insulting new award is ham-fisted at best and discriminatory at worst."
Writer Mark Harris: "It truly is something that in the year Black Panther, a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy's reaction is, 'We need to invent something separate ... but equal.'"
Rolling Stone: "WTF Is the Academy thinking?"
Vox: "Feels like a panicked move ... shameless pandering."
Rob Lowe: "The film business passed away today."
So, that went well. I will admit that my first thought about it was precisely the thought that Mark Harris had -- I immediately thought about the fight over Satchel Paige and the Hall of Fame. In 1966, Ted Williams uttered these beautiful words at his Hall of Fame speech:
“The other day Willie Mays hit his 522nd home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ’em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”
This shamed a lot of people in baseball (and as we saw in Nick Davis' excellent PBS documentary, Williams was asked beforehand NOT to say it). It took a few years, but eventually the pressure built and baseball had to deal with it. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn put together a meeting of baseball people -- including former commissioner Ford Frick, Hall of Fame president Paul Kerr, sportswriter Dick Young, and former Negro leaguer and major league star Monte Irvin -- and they had what is now acknowledged to be one of the nastiest meetings in baseball history.
Young was screaming at everyone that the Baseball Hall of Fame might as well not exist if you didn't have Satchel Paige in it. Frick and Kerr screamed back that including Negro leaguers would water down the Hall of Fame and, anyway, Paige didn't qualify because he didn't play 10 years in the big leagues.
And Bowie Kuhn -- displaying the Solomon-like wisdom that made him one of the least effective commissioners in the history of sports -- announced that he would offer both sides something. He would have the Hall create a special Negro leagues display, featuring Satchel Paige. This, obviously, did not offer both sides something. This was the hideous separate but equal cloak of racists, and Paige ended the whole thing by announcing that he wasn't going into the Hall of Fame through the back door.
So yes, at first, I did think about how the Academy was doing the same garbage here.
But then I thought about something else. Bear with me on this -- I'm going to go year by year since 1977 (the year of Star Wars) and list the Academy Awards' Best Picture, along with the movie that I think could have won the "Achievement in Popular Film" award, had it existed at the time.
Best Picture: Annie Hall
Best popular picture: Star Wars
-- Star Wars WAS nominated for Best Picture, so there is at least that. People would have been utterly shocked if Star Wars had won; that's just not the sort of movie that wins Best Picture. But looking back, even as a huge fan of Annie Hall, how can anyone deny that Star Wars was, by far, the most powerful movie of 1977?
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