Black Panther is one of the top contenders for the new "Popular Film" Oscar, but one of its stars wants the world to know that's not because the movie doesn't deserve other awards from the Academy.
It's been nearly a week since the Oscars board of governors announced its decision to add a new category recognizing achievement in "Popular Film," and the debate over that decision is still raging. The Academy itself has still not revealed the various eligibility parameters the category will carry, but its purpose still seems obvious to many: This is a move to recognize blockbusters that the general public has seen, making the annual Oscars telecast more accessible to viewers who don't spend as much time with the indie dramas and other smaller films that often dominate awards like Best Picture.
The new category immediately ignited fierce debate, with some arguing that making a distinction between "Popular Film" and "Best Picture" will remove prestige from both categories, and others arguing that it's an interesting shake-up that the Oscars and its flagging ratings desperately need. Sterling K. Brown, who co-starred in one of 2018's most acclaimed popular films, Black Panther, is still at least somewhat on the fence.
“When I first heard of the category, the first question I had was, ‘What is the criterion for being nominated in this category?'” Brown told Variety at a For Your Consideration event for his TV series This Is Us. “If it’s something that can give it some sort of merit and legitimacy, then I think it’s cool. But I think Black Panther stands on its own merits regardless of its popularity as being a wonderful piece of art.”
The last several years in particular have seen a heavy push during awards season from studios who want as many trophies as possibly for their critically acclaimed blockbusters, including Mad Max: Fury Road, last year's Wonder Woman and Black Panther this year. The best these films can usually hope for is what Fury Road ended up with: A number of awards in key technical categories and nominations in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, thereby earning it recognition in the broadcast's most prestigious moments even if it doesn't actually stand a chance of winning.
Though we still have several months to wait until the Oscar nominations will be announced for 2018's films, Black Panther is the 2018 release so far that's been mentioned most frequently as the film that could go the distance and get the Best Picture nod on behalf of blockbusters, though other films like Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 also certainly have a shot. The Popular Film category could mean that Panther doesn't stand a chance of a Best Picture run at all, or it could mean the film gets a nomination in both categories, or it could mean other genre films get the Popular Film spotlight while Black Panther has to settle for the consolation prize of a Best Picture nomination. You can see why this is both confusing and frustrating for a number of people in Hollywood and beyond already.
For Brown, who said he goes "back and forth" on his feelings about the new category, it's just a matter of making it clear that Black Panther deserved to be a part of the Oscars even before this Popular Film debate was ignited.
“[Director] Ryan Coogler is an artist,” Brown said. “The man is three for three in his films thus far, and I don’t see him striking out anytime soon. So whether it’s in one category, the other, or both, the movie is worthy of recognition.”
The 91st Annual Academy Awards will be held on February 24, 2019.