Okri wrote:How is this different than the Hoop Dreams for documentary anger, or the foreign film changes after 2007, in your mind?
The three changes are the same in the narrowest sense: each is meant to engender different results in the categories involved. But I think there are significant differences in the how and why the changes were/are meant to be achieved.
In the case of documentaries: there was a strong sense of cronyism prevailing among the rather limited group making the nominations. Films that had wide distribution/acclaim seemed to be perennially disadvantaged in favor of those made by people on the selection committee or their acquaintances. Suspicion was they were essentially rigging the system, to keep a popular favorite from likely triumphing over one of this clique's productions. This rigging had been going on for a while, but the Hoop Dreams thing made it crazy-obvious, and the Academy fixed things so that widely-seen docs now had a shot. (And, of course, they started winning -- which makes underdog fans unhappy, but, you know, why should this category be different from all other Oscar slots?)
(Aside: I wonder why the animated feature category hasn't been subject to the same "cut out the corruption" purge. The obvious blackballing of The LEGO Movie should have been the Hoop Dreams of its category.)
Foreign films were somewhat different. The process of winnowing nominees from such a wide pool of film was a deeply time-consuming effort. This wasn't such an issue when the category first appeared in the 40s/50s, because far fewer countries submitted films. But that's changed as worldwide cinema has expanded. These days, I don't know the exact number, but I assume it requires nominators having to screen something in the area of 100 films? The average industry-ite doesn't have near the time for such a project. So, volunteers for the committee tended to be retirees. I'm not opposed to these folks on principle -- particularly since the designation would apply to me these days -- but there was no doubt that the films they tended to nominate took on a much blander cast than those that had been nominated (and had been winning) in the 60s and 70s. The group clearly favored sentimental movies in general, often set in the years of their youth (lots of WWII and Holocaust movies), and resisted those that took much esthetic risk. At a certain point, this became too much for the Academy to bear, and they instituted reforms that helped somewhat hipper efforts make the cut. And, once voters were given these films as options, they started to win. I can't imagine, for instance, either Dogtooth or The Great Beauty being nominated by the fussbudget committee -- but the latter, once nominated, actually won.
In one sense, these two examples seem opposite: the idea under documentary was to get greater representation for audience-friendly efforts, while in foreign film the push was for the more difficult films to get their shot. But in another sense it was the same goal: to let prominent, often critically-acclaimed films take center-stage in Oscar voting the same way prominent, critically-acclaimed English-language fiction films do in the main categories.
The push for Best Popular Film seems the opposite: to lessen the emphasis on critical acclaim (since critically-acclaimed box-office hits already get best picture nominations all the time, as many here and elsewhere have documented), and to affect the voting outcome not by letting all films have their equal shot to compete with the field, but to improve a certain class of films' chances of winning by establishing arbitrary criteria that excludes some of the competition. (In that sense, animated feature might be the one category that's most analogous, but even with that you have clear criteria -- 99% of the time, it's easy to tell an animated film from a live action one -- rather than the still undefined standard of this new proposed category.)
Something interesting about the overwhelmingly negative response to these proposed changes (the only people I've seen in favor are Sasha Stone, Scott Feinberg and Mark Wahlberg -- take from that group what you will): it includes both people who think Black Panther should be nominated for all major Oscars, and people like myself or BJ, who...don't. It's a bit like Dems lining up with Never-Trumpers just now -- we've been foes before, and will no doubt soon be again. But, right this moment, we're united against a clear and present danger.