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Prestige Populism: How is the definition of 'prestige film' changing?

Whilst the Best Picture field at a regular Oscars may typically be filled with dour dramas and art house films inaccessible or unappealing to the average watcher, this year’s nominees list felt different. The winner in particular speaks to changing tastes in storytelling and we are wondering if cinematic rules have changed.

Everything Everywhere All At Once, the multiversal odyssey in which an older Asian woman fights an evil, omnipotent version of her gay daughter, follows a trend of winners in recent years that seem to veer from Oscar tradition (CODA, Parasite, The Shape of Water, Moonlight), but this changing tide is reflective of the changing demographics of the Academy voters. Between 2008 and 2015, 8% of nominees were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, with a 2014 poll showing that the voting body was 76% male, and 94% white. Since a push in 2015 to increase diversity in the Academy ranks following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, nominees from underrepresented groups have increased to 17%. Today’s voting body is now 33% female, and 19% non-white, and this increase in diversity is reflected in its nominees and winners.

In the past three years we’ve seen Best Director go to the 2nd and 3rd women ever to win, and this year’s Best Actress Oscar went to an Asian woman for the first time. There is still a way to go, however, with this year featuring only one Latino winner, one Black winner, and zero women nominated for Best Director.

As the voting body becomes younger and more diversified over time, we can expect to see a range of nominees from different genres and different mediums, but what remains true amongst Best Picture winners is a celebration of lived experience. The last four winners have been films with a strong emotional core, following protagonists who struggle as their world changes around them. As researchers, I believe the fascination with these stories is something we can identify with and we should be celebrating the showcasing of seldom-heard voices.


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