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It's Time for Oscar Super PACs

A simple way to level the playing field for small movies.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin, Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and Pernell Walker in Pariah

During the Hive, we’re asking writers and editors from inside and outside Slate to present their ideas for improving the Oscars.

Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences instituted a set of new rules described by the Washington Post as “the showbiz equivalent of campaign finance reform.” The updated guidelines are meant to level the playing field for smaller-budget films by doing away with expensive promotions: elaborate screener packaging, lavish parties for academy members, and other frills that only big studios with big budgets can afford.

However, these rules apply only after films are nominated, and that means the most important playing field remains uneven. The fat cats at Paramount could still spend tons of money getting the critically drubbed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Lame a slew of nominations, while tiny distributors like Oscilloscope couldn’t begin to muster that kind of cash to promote the acclaimed We Need to Talk About Kevin. But for Oscilloscope and the like, it’s the nominations that matter; the prestige and box office that follow a few nods for a small movie make all the difference in the world, even if that movie doesn’t win any statues.

The solution? Nomination Super PACs. In such an arrangement, movie fans—not members of the academy—could put real money behind movies they truly believed in. Think of it as a Kickstarter for the Oscars. Anyone who participated in the making of a film would be barred from contributing to its super PAC, as would all studio and distributor employees. Money donated to an Oscar super PAC would be used for buying ads, hosting Q&As, and setting up screenings. In this scenario, small, artsy, yet still beloved films like Pariah might get the exposure they need to be nominated. Another benefit: Populist favorites like the last Harry Potter movie could get a second glance from the academy if its fans rallied behind it—perhaps those big muckety-mucks would be reminded of the fabulous villainy of Ralph Fiennes. Academy members would still be the ones doing the nominating and voting for the eventual winners, but at least they’d be doing it without the blinders put on them by the current big studio-dominated nomination process.

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Jessica Grose is a senior editor at Slate and the managing editor of DoubleX. She is the co-author of Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages From Home. Follow her on Twitter here



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