The introduction of a Fan Favorite Oscar is great for Spider-Man: No Way Home, but the award is bad for movies in general. Voting is currently taking place on Twitter, where users can vote for any film released in 2021, regardless of if they’ve been nominated for an Oscar or not, using the hashtag #OscarsFanFavorite. Voters are also entered into a draw to win prizes, including presenting an award at next year’s ceremony. It’s the latest attempt by the Academy to increase audience engagement with the awards themselves following a failed attempt to introduce a popular film award back in 2019.
The announcement follows public criticism by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and filmmaker Kevin Smith, who both recently criticized what some deem No Way Home to be the Oscars’ most notable snub. A cursory glance at #OscarsFanFavorite on Twitter shows that Tom Holland’s latest outing as Spider-Man is leading the popular nominations. It’s therefore a distinct possibility that Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield will be lifting the trophy on March 28th.
While the Academy’s desire to engage with a wider, more populist audience is admirable, it risks setting a dangerous precedent. It empowers vocal fan groups who feel aggrieved that the Academy has failed to recognize their favorite film of 2021. With great power, however, comes great responsibility. Online polls are notoriously easy to rig, multiple accounts can be set up to guarantee extra votes. It’s how a vocal minority recently registered their distaste with Eternals through review bombing. On top of this, individual users can vote 20 times a day! Which film has the most passionate fanbase hardly feels like a valuable metric for awards recognition.
The debate over the perceived snub creates an odd narrative that suggests No Way Home, the third highest-grossing film of all time, is an unloved underdog. Despite almost a decade since The Avengers cemented the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the dominant force in popular culture, there’s still a feeling amongst many that MCU movies don’t get proper recognition. The exception to this is Black Panther, currently the only MCU film to have been nominated for Best Picture. It’s easy to see why; Black Panther‘s Afrofuturist aesthetic felt unlike any MCU movie that had gone before it. Despite No Way Home‘s nostalgia-packed love letter being hugely enjoyable, it’s the eighth Spider-Man film. It’s not pushing cinematic boundaries, it’s a visually impressive popcorn movie and has been recognized as such with a Best Visual Effects nomination.
The unintended consequence of this decision to introduce a populist category is that it widens the gulf between Academy voters and moviegoers. For example, aside from featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in both films, Power of the Dog is miles away from No Way Home. That’s how it should be, there should be room for arthouse and commercial cinema. However, Spider-Man: No Way Home winning Fan Favorite and Cumberbatch’s new film winning Best Picture would further entrench the divide between art and commerce within film culture. #OscarsFanFavorite is most appealing to those communities who identify as fans of a film. That generally means franchises like the MCU and DCEU, which currently dominate the cinema landscape. If this new popular award lasts beyond 2022, it will be won each year by the franchise with the most organized fanbase, regardless of objective quality or merit. If fans can game the system to award their favorite movie an Oscar, it renders the decisions of the Academy meaningless. In striving to be more relevant, the Oscars risk further reducing their significance.
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