The Creator Of “Insatiable” Is Defending The Netflix Show Against Critics Who Say It’s A Fat-Shaming Mess

Arts & Entertainment

“The goal here is to say the things that maybe make us uncomfortable,” Lauren Gussis told BuzzFeed News. (Warning: There are light spoilers ahead.)

Posted on August 10, 2018, at 2:13 p.m. ET

Annette Brown

Dallas Roberts and Debby Ryan in Insatiable.

The creator of Insatiable, the new Netflix show that’s been blasted by critics for what they say is its fat-shaming, is defending her series as a satirical work that seeks to make viewers “uncomfortable” by challenging political correctness and “censorship.”

Lauren Gussis told BuzzFeed News that she was surprised by the immense backlash the show received when a trailer dropped in July showcasing the story of a plus-size teenage girl who loses 70 pounds and then seeks revenge on her former bullies.

“I was surprised that people were judging an entire show that hadn’t yet aired based on a minute and 30 seconds,” Gussis said. “But I’m not surprised because it’s a sensitive topic and people have feelings about it. I have so many feelings about it. Like, I am furious about all these issues.”

Annette Brown

Ryan wearing her fat suit behind the scenes of Insatiable.

In Insatiable, Debby Ryan sports a fat suit in order to play Patty, a high school student whose mouth is wired shut after she gets punched in the face by a homeless man who is trying to steal her candy bar. Patty (who’s also referred to as “Fatty Patty” by bullies) loses a lot of weight and transforms into a conventionally beautiful teenager. Viewers follow Patty as she struggles with an eating disorder after losing the weight but also as she seeks revenge on the people who have wronged her, even by way of murder.

Critics have not been kind to the show, calling Insatiable fatphobic, “a bloated mess,” and “lazy, dull, and insulting.” The AV Club also published a review titled “Insatiable’s best joke is on anyone who watches the whole thing.”

Gussis said that her intention was to use satire in comedy as a way to address “a lot of really sensitive issues … in a way that isn’t necessarily the way that you ‘should’ talk about them.”

“I think that ‘should’ is a really dangerous word in art because I think the second you start telling people ‘should,’ we’re right on the border of censorship,” she said.

“There are conversations that go on that people feel like in their public life they have to talk one way and in their private life they talk another way, and we never see the full truth,” Gussis continued. “The goal here is to say the things that maybe make us uncomfortable.”

Annette Brown

Gussis with Ryan on set.

The weight loss storyline in Insatiable, which was originally bought by the CW but found a home on Netflix when the pilot didn’t get picked up, isn’t likely to be the only thing that makes some viewers uncomfortable.

The show also follows Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts), a lawyer by day and beauty pageant coach by night who is falsely accused of molesting a minor. The mother who makes the false accusation, Regina Sinclair (Arden Myrin), also has a sexual relationship with Armstrong’s teenage son, Brick (Michael Provost).

The show features a number of jokes about statutory rape and molestation, but Gussis said she wasn’t “making light” of the issue.

“It’s functioning exactly the way that I said in terms of satire: It’s airing out that dark thing that we’re all thinking that nobody’s going to say,” she said.

The backlash to Insatiable comes after the cancellation of the Heathers reboot back in June, another satirical TV show about teens. At the time, Viacom said it was trying to find a new home for Heathers because the network wasn’t comfortable airing a show that had violence, suicide, and guns in high school after the Parkland school shooting.

Gussis said that while some people might not be ready for satirical comedies that deal with the issues tackled on Insatiable, she sees it as “an opportunity for both sides of any issue” to “come together in a way that’s slightly less threatening and lower stakes because it’s a comedy as opposed to a political discussion.”

“Do I think there’s a place in culture to tell satire? I grew up on that stuff. That’s how I learned to tell stories,” Gussis said. “So I hope to God we still live in a world where that’s possible because I wouldn’t have gotten through the day without it.”

Tina Rowden / Tina Rowden/Netflix

Gussis revealed many of the show’s plotlines — from struggling with an eating disorder to coming to terms with one’s sexuality — are drawn from her own experiences and struggles. “It was basically a way to create a bunch of avatars out in the world of all of the issues I’ve dealt with,” Gussis said. “It’s my right and my obligation as an artist to tell my story and my truth, and it’s disingenuous for me to tell any story other than that one.”

The showrunner — who’s worked on Dexter, Once Upon a Time, and a Ryan Murphy pilot that never got picked up for series — hoped that “by putting my pain out there, I would cause a connection and make someone less alone.”

“People totally have the right to not watch it if they feel like it’s not the right thing for them. But I think there is a place for it for some people,” Gussis said. “My hope is that people will look at the show and identify, but if they identify as someone who also doesn’t get the show, then they also get to know themselves better. And that’s great.”

Chloë Grace Moretz Said Louis C.K.'s “I Love You, Daddy” Film Should “Just Kind Of Go Away, Honestly”

C.K. was accused by five women of sexual misconduct, and two said that he’d masturbated in front of them.

Soon after the allegations came out, C.K.’s film — which was set to premiere the same week the allegations were published by the New York Times — was canceled “due to unexpected circumstances.”

“I don’t think it’s time for them to have a voice right now,” Moretz added. “Of course, it’s devastating to put time into a project and have it disappear. But at the same time, this movement is so powerful and so progressive that I’m just happy to be in communication with everyone and to see the big change in the face of the industry, which I think is very, very real.”

Issa Rae Had Some Choice Words For The #LawrenceHive's Undying Support Of Their Favorite “Insecure” Character

From the start, Rae was asked about the enthusiasm of the #LawrenceHive, a term conjured in support of Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis), who played Issa Dee’s (Rae) boyfriend in the first two seasons of the show.

HBO, Jason Koerner / Getty Images

Long story short: Issa cheats on Lawrence, and their already rocky relationship is pretty much caput after that.

Over the course of Season 2, Lawrence and Issa are not the kindest people to each other and fans began to take sides.

And there’s a whole lot of men who sympathize with Lawrence, and they don’t shy away from making their opinions known on social media. Subsequently, the #LawrenceHive was born.

It was revealed over the summer that Lawrence wouldn’t be back for Season 3, mainly due to the fact that the audience doesn’t “know the character of Issa outside of Lawrence,” Rae said.

“This was just an opportunity to explore that and so, in a sense, rediscover who she is without this man in her life,” she said.

We Live Half Our Lives Online — So Why Don't More Movies Show It?

John Cho’s new movie Searching might be the first one you see that takes place entirely on a computer screen. But it probably won’t be the last.

Posted on August 10, 2018, at 12:32 p.m. ET

Universal Pictures

A scene from the 2014 movie Unfriended: Dark Web.

One of the most unexpectedly memorable sequences in Bo Burnham’s new film Eighth Grade involves an emotionally intense interaction between a 13-year-old girl and her phone. After a long day of excruciating social awkwardness, middle schooler Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) hunkers down in bed and scrolls and likes and scrolls and stares in ways that’ll be familiar to any devoted Instagram user. The app is allowed to fill the screen, or to cast light on Kayla’s face in the dark of her room. She is a rapt audience of one, floating in space.

It’s not just the tender familiarity of the scene that stands out — it’s the evenhandedness, the way the movie shows social media as a fact of life, neither the cause of nor a solution to Kayla’s adolescent loneliness. Kayla could make herself just as yearningly miserable studying yearbook photos as selfies. Eighth Grade acknowledges the extent to which our emotions and relationships are now mediated through digital channels without coming across as alarmist. That doesn’t seem like it should be rare, but it is.

A24

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade.

It’s not that we don’t see people use computers and phones on film and TV. But characters don’t spend nearly as much time on them as we do in real life — unless they’re part of a cautionary tale. When Aubrey Plaza befriend-stalks an online idol in Ingrid Goes West, or Emma Watson gets a job at a company working toward a privacy-free dystopia in The Circle, or Emma Roberts plays a game involving crowdsourced dares in Nerve, the message is inevitably that everything’s gone too far. Hollywood has always sported a technophobic streak, and its tendency to treat the online world as cause for concern goes back almost as far as mainstream awareness of the internet — think of Sandra Bullock in 1995’s The Net, ordering pizza from a website in a scene that was supposed to underscore her unfathomable isolation.

But the slowness to embrace immersion in the internet as a fact of life is probably due less to any deeply held moral stance against devices than to a more mundane problem: It’s really hard to make someone using their phone or their computer look interesting. Or, to put it more broadly, it’s really hard to convey the emotional nuance and richness of digital communication, the ways in which we now live half our lives online. Just figuring out how to make texting look dynamic has been an ongoing challenge for filmmakers and TV producers, who’ve experimented with splashing words onscreen or having messages pop up in bubbles. Even Eighth Grade, which folds all sorts of online elements into its miniature middle school drama, ultimately gets its biggest kicks not from internet use itself but from the contrast between the digital and the IRL.

Universal Pictures

Unfriended

And then there’s Unfriended, a 2014 thriller that leaned so far into our device-laden reality, when everything else leaned away, that it actually took place entirely on a computer screen. Levan Gabriadze’s found-footage feature about a group of teens being haunted on Facebook by a classmate’s vengeful spirit wasn’t the first movie to use that conceit — there had already been a viral 2013 short entitled Noah, created by two Canadian film students, as well as a less-convincing 2014 Nacho Vigalondo thriller called Open Windows. But Unfriended was the first full-blown movie-on-a-computer-screen hit. It was admired for the ingeniousness of its construction, how it builds suspense out of the spookiness of default avatars and uses a Skype group call to keep the actors’ faces onscreen as the ghost starts menacing them. But it was also, maybe inevitably, regarded as a gimmick by many critics.

Unfriended may have been a novelty in 2014, but in 2018 it’s providing the template for a growing collection of other desktop movies. In February, the Berlin Film Festival hosted the premiere of the most ambitious use of this format to date — the drama Profile, based on pseudonymous journalist Anna Erelle’s account of investigating ISIS recruiters by posing as a 20-year-old recent convert to Islam online. That was followed by the Unfriended sequel Dark Web in July, this time featuring nefarious human antagonists instead of supernatural ones. Later in August, the Sundance thriller Searching will hit theaters, starring John Cho as a father doing some frantic online investigation into the life of his teenage daughter, who’s gone missing from their suburban home. As in Unfriended, the main characters in these movies only appear on their screens via webcam, videos, photos, and, most importantly, their actions — their computer use revealing, gradually, who they are.

Sebastian Baron / Screen Gems

John Cho in Searching.

There is, in fact, a single figure behind this trend in movies — but not the millennial, tech-obsessed mastermind you might expect. Instead, it’s a 57-year-old Russian filmmaker and producer named Timur Bekmambetov, who made a name for himself with the huge homegrown blockbusters Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) before heading to Hollywood for an uneven studio career that resulted in the likes of Wanted (2008) and Ben-Hur (2016). Now, he’s devoting himself to building out an international empire on a concept he’s come to call “Screenlife”; he’s served as the producer of all of these new screen-centric features and the director of Profile. [Editor’s note: He has also worked with BuzzFeed News on a mobile-formatted documentary series called Future History.]

When I spoke with Bekmambetov on Skype recently, he rattled off a whole list of Screenlife movies that are currently in the works, spanning genres and continents. There’s a Cyrano de Bergerac–inspired comedy called Liked in postproduction, and a rowdy Russian Hangover-esque romp ready to go. Then there’s a Romeo and Juliet set on smartphones, a sci-fi project and a fantasy one, plus a production slated to take place on the Chinese internet, on all of its specific social networks.

These Screenlife movies might sound gimmicky. But it’s hard to overstate how mesmerizing they can be. 

“I’m trying to stretch this format. It was important to me to try different things,” he said. It’s a conspicuously diverse slate of projects that comes from a more diverse array of young directors who’ve brought their own takes on the concept — Liked is the work of Marja-Lewis Ryan, fresh off her Netflix feature 6 Balloons, while Searching is the debut of Aneesh Chaganty, who a few years ago shot a viral short shot on Google Glass. Bekmambetov has talked about wanting to produce 50 of these movies a year.

Briefly summarized, these Screenlife movies might sound gimmicky. But it’s hard to overstate how mesmerizing they can be. Every time I’ve watched one with an audience, the crowd has let out a discomfited laugh the moment they first grasp what they’re seeing, as they watch someone pull up a Spotify playlist, google something, or plead with a significant other over Facebook Messenger. It’s not just the oddity of seeing the stuff of your desktop landscape writ large that’s unsettling; it’s the feeling that you’ve been inserted into the deeply personal relationship between someone and their device, that you’re getting to peek into something intensely private, something you shouldn’t get to see.

This is the year the desktop movie has announced its arrival, and proved that messaging apps, livestreams, and YouTube excavations are a format capable of sustaining all sorts of stories. What remains to be seen is whether we actually want to see the stuff of our small screens up on the big screen — or whether we’d rather just keep looking at our phones.

Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images

Timur Bekmambetov with Searching‘s John Cho, Aneesh Chaganty, and Debra Messing at Sundance 2018.

The seeds of Screenlife came from a Skype call Bekmambetov had with his producing partner, Olga Kharina, in 2013. She shared her screen to show him a poster, and forgot to turn the function off after. As she kept talking, he watched as she sent other messages, made an online purchase — all the things we might do on devices while communicating with someone else, because we’ve learned to compartmentalize and parcel out our attention. Suddenly he felt that he wasn’t just getting to see Kharina’s computer — he was getting to see inside her mind. It was like voiceover, but better, he said, “much more cinematic, because you don’t need to talk — you can just show what your character is doing on the screen.” To Bekmambetov, the intimacy of this possible approach to filmmaking was a revelation — one that has since spurred over half a dozen completed features, with more in the works.

There is, of course, a pragmatic side to investing in these movies. The first Unfriended cost a reported $1 million and made over $64 million, and it was mostly assembled with motion graphics. Bekmambetov’s company has since created software to make it easier and cheaper for filmmakers who work with him to produce these projects, though not all of them opt to use it. So he has a reason to talk up Screenlife (when I spoke with him, he was fresh off calling in to describe his concept to an audience of a few hundred in Moscow), and to insist that traditional movies have started to feel stale to him.

“I feel that I have seen these movies before,” he said. “I’ve seen this camerawork, the acting, the helicopter shots, and the visual effect shots.” But at the same time, he comes across as sincerely evangelistic about the concept and its potential to tell all sorts of stories.

Bekmambetov has come to feel that Screenlife is not just a technique but a necessity in making movies about modern life. “The most important events of our life happen onscreen,” he told me. “There’s no way you can tell a story today about contemporary problems or characters without showing the screen of the character.”

Bazelevs Entertainment

Valene Kane in Profile.

He’s not wrong. Watching Profile — a provocative, uneasy duel of a movie between Amy (Valene Kane), a London journalist, and Bilel (Shazad Latif), the swaggering jihadi who reaches out to her — it’s hard to imagine the narrative working any other way. The complicated dynamics between these characters develop exclusively over Facebook chats and cagey Skype calls, two people trying to figure each other out through the limited aperture of online interactions. They don’t get to see each other’s offline lives, and neither, really, do we.

The trick to these films is their specificity. Not just in the language — like the GIF-heavy exchanges Bilel amusingly and ominously turns out to prefer — but in the way people interact with technology, especially in private. There are no fake search engines to be found, and the unavoidable, immediate datedness of everything is embraced. When making Profile, Bekmambetov and his team realized that they were effectively making a period piece for which they’d have to recreate technology that had since changed. “All the websites, all the applications and extensions — they are different,” he said. “I understood that in two, three years you feel that it’s retro.” Searching also takes advantage of the idea of aging tech; at one point Cho’s character, David Kim, manages a form of time travel by booting up the old PC the family used to share in order to dig up phone numbers filed away by his late wife.

These films sprawl over continents, but they are, by design, claustrophobic.

The cast of Searching, which also includes Debra Messing, feels a few noticeable degrees more established than that of Profile and the Unfriended films. Cho, who’s talked about how he was initially hesitant to join the film, was won over when Chaganty, the director, sold him on how cinematic the concept could be. It’s proof that bigger talent can be enlisted into these movies, though Bekmambetov, with the fervor of a true believer, has become convinced that what we see the characters do within the scope of their screens is “much more important and much more emotional than just the face of the actor.” The emotions he’s trying to capture are in smaller things, like what someone types into a field and then deletes without hitting send, he said. “There are a lot of moments in the movies where the audience is laughing, screaming, or jumping, or crying, just because they see how the mouse moves.”

I feel like I should confess that I’m both enraptured with the idea of Screenlife and not entirely convinced of its breakout potential, of whether people would tolerate watching more than one or two movies in this format, much less something more expansive, like a television series. These films sprawl over continents — the main characters in Profile are in London and Syria (which Cyprus stood in for onscreen), while the college friends in Dark Web are scattered across the US and UK — but they are, by design, claustrophobic, an exercise in formal restraint by way of a computer screen. This is especially true in the purist form Bekmambetov prefers, in which the movie holds on a wide shot of a computer screen and requires the audience to try to follow along with what the character is doing, not guiding the eye with pans or zooms.

Universal Pictures

Unfriended: Dark Web

No matter how cunningly these movies build their narratives, they are still opting for a limited view of someone’s life, constraining footage of their actors to shaky YouTube footage and the flatness of webcams. They look genuine, which is to say they look intensely unpretty. And this approach works with varying degrees of deftness, depending on which film you’re watching.

I’d say Searching and Unfriended are the best of the bunch; both are genuinely suspenseful and speak to how we compartmentalize aspects of our lives online. Profile is admirably flawed, a movie that gets at how online communication can feel more authentic than the kind we do face-to-face, but it doesn’t sell its main character’s reckless transformation. Dark Web — which went to theaters with two different possible endings — is underwhelming despite a clever touch involving an imperiled character whose cellphone service goes in and out as she takes the subway. But the idea of committing to watch multiple desktop movies in a row, whatever their quality, feels like it could get stylistically stifling — a bit like opting to only read epistolary novels.

Specific, minor details are often more compelling than the main action in these movies, for all of Bekmambetov’s emphasis on story. In Profile, what stuck with me is the way that Amy toggles between discussions with her boyfriend about splitting their bills 70/30 and doing research into European women who’ve gone off to join ISIS, a whiplash encapsulation of how the mundane and the alarming get flattened together online. In Searching, David scrolls past the hate mail he’s been receiving from strangers who’ve heard about his missing daughter in the news, have decided he’s the one responsible, and have taken it upon themselves to tell him so, an incidental but startlingly plausible addition.

The central plot in each movie eventually has to rely on an awkward contrivance or two to keep going. The details, on the other hand, are what help build these movies into fascinating snapshots of ordinary people: a high schooler whose close friends are more like frenemies, a flaky freelance writer who’s more vulnerable to promises of being swept away and starting anew than she’d ever admit, an upper-middle-class San Jose widower who’s been avoiding tough talks with his daughter, and a programmer who’s devoted his time to write an app to communicate with his deaf girlfriend, when she just wants him to learn ASL. Through the accumulated detritus of their digital lives, we get to see these characters clearly and intimately, in a way that (at least without spyware) they’ll never be able to see other people.

Screen Gems

Michelle La in Searching.

That theme runs through these movies, regardless of their genre — that we’re more honest in our use of technology than we are with the people in our lives, who only get to see the parts of us we choose to show them. Amy and Bilel are functionally catfishing each other in Profile, telling each other what they think the other person wants to hear while offering the occasional glimpse of authenticity. The characters in Unfriended have been harboring all sorts of friend-group betrayals that get forced into the open. In Searching, David pries open his daughter’s online work, and has to figure out how well he really knows her — if she has normal teen secrets or darker, more serious ones that might have led her to run away.

It’s only us, the audience, who get to see the main character’s unguarded self though their juggling of windows, their browsing, and their taking or ignoring of calls. In doing that, these movies demand we think about our own shifting relationships with our devices — the degree to which we’ve outsourced part of our minds to them, to which they contain records of our memories and our planned futures.

Bekmambetov considers these movies to all be about morality, which is not to say they’re concerned with moralizing about online addictions or overloading on screentime. Rather, they are, as he puts it, stories about figuring out how to navigate a time in which technology is shifting not just the way we live our lives but how we behave toward other people.

“I think we all, as a society, feel fear because we don’t understand how this world is constructed and what our role is in it,” he told me. “There are not enough fairy tales, myths, and legends made for us to feel comfortable in this world.” So maybe these are fables for the new reality of an online age. But they’re also a kind of mirror — not a black one, but a steady digital reflection of what we do when left to, and with, our own devices. They reflect how we behave when the whole wide web is open to us but, at least as far as we know, no one can see what we do with it.

You could look at these films as putting us in the position of a hacker, invading someone’s privacy and spying on their digital life and all the personal information contained within. But I tend to think of it more as being allowed to play a kind of semi-omniscient god, hovering above these characters and getting to see everything they do onscreen, being dared to cast judgment on them — and in doing so, on ourselves. ●

13 Ways “Insatiable” Is Really Fucking Problematic

In another scene, when Patty gets upset and takes part in an eating competition, Bob (Dallas Roberts), a lawyer who is training her up to compete in beauty pageants, says to her: “We both know where this leads. It starts with some crawfish but then you feel guilty, so you eat a box of doughnuts to make yourself feel better… Emotional eating is a slippery slope for both of us.”

As Arielle Bernstein rightly points out in the Guardian, it is more accurate to describe Patty as having a binge-eating disorder, where she would eat and eat and eat. Here, obesity and binge-eating are judged as the same.

A common line in the show’s narration is “skinny is magic”, but it is only challenged properly once. A plus-size character called Dee (Ashley D. Kelly) is introduced in Episode 6 and she briefly mentions that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” but this theme is not explored further.

Kanye West Elaborated On His Love Of Trump On Jimmy Kimmel Live Before Talking Bipolar Disorder

Arts & Entertainment

“Liberals can’t bully me. . . I actually quite enjoy when people actually are mad at me about certain things,” the rapper said.

Posted on August 10, 2018, at 1:18 a.m. ET

“People got really mad when you were — well, some people were very happy when you said you liked President Trump. Do you like, do you think he is a good president?” Kimmel asked.

West then launched into a very West explanation:

“Just as a musician, African-American, guy out in Hollywood, all these different things, you know, everyone around me tried to pick my candidate for me, and then told me every time I said I liked Trump that I couldn’t say it out loud or my career would be over, I’d get kicked out of the black community because blacks are supposed to have a monolithic thought — we can only be Democrats and all…. And it took me a year-and-a-half to have the confidence to stand up and put on the hat.”

West added that “I actually quite enjoy when people actually are mad at me about certain things.”

“You must enjoy it, yeah,” Kimmel quipped.

“I actually quite enjoy it,” West responded.

The New “Popular Film” Category For The Oscars Sparks Outcry — And Praise — Among Industry Insiders

Arts & Entertainment

“If you get a popular nomination, doesn’t that pretty much mean you’re toast to win Best Picture if you’re also nominated for Best Picture?”

Posted on August 9, 2018, at 10:41 p.m. ET

Marvel Studios; AMPAS

When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced on Aug. 8 that it was making major changes to the Oscars, social media naturally lit up in response. Among the changes — including a shorter ceremony and shifting some awards to be announced during commercial breaks — the creation of a brand new category honoring “achievement in popular film” appeared to be ironically the most unpopular decision.

Just a few examples: “The film business passed away today with the announcement of the ‘popular’ film Oscar,” tweeted actor Rob Lowe. Actor Elijah Wood was more succinct, tweeting, “Best Popular Film? oof.”

Director Edgar Wright tweeted out a box office chart of the top grossing movies of 2018 with the line, “Isn’t this the award for Popular Movie?” And journalist Mark Harris tweeted incredulity that the Academy would create a popular film award the same year that Black Panther became the most popular movie of the year: “It truly is something that in the year … a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy’s reaction is, ‘We need to invent something separate…but equal.'”

But the reaction has not been uniformly negative.

“This is a dialogue that will continue up until the show,” producer Michael Shamberg (Erin Brockovich) told BuzzFeed News, referring to the social media uproar about the popular film category. “It will transform into ‘what should win,’ not ‘should they do it or not.’ And you’re going to get a lot of people invested in one of those great internet conversations about what should win, and that internet conversation is going to attract the audience that the Academy wants to watch the show. So it’s all for the good.” (Shamberg is a consultant for BuzzFeed Studios.)

The Academy’s decision to create the category was widely seen as an acknowledgement that the awards ceremony and the awards themselves have fallen out of step with popular tastes. Eight out of the last 10 Best Picture winners grossed less than $100 million at the domestic box office, and viewership for the most recent Oscar telecast were down 19% from the previous year. And the operating budget for the Academy largely depends on the fees paid by ABC for the rights to broadcast the Oscars.

“They need to do everything they can to keep the show relevant.”

“The reality is the Academy needed to do something,” said Kevin O’Connell, who won Best Sound Mixing Oscar for the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge. “They rely too heavily on the revenue from the awards show for their own existence not [to] do anything. They need to do everything they can to keep the show relevant, give the audience an experience they can’t get any place else and, most of all, get the ratings back up.”

Whether the popular film category is the best route to that goal remains an open question. “The joke is, they have enough data to know that isn’t going to improve the ratings,” a film industry insider with knowledge of how the Academy operates told BuzzFeed News. “This is just a public relations ploy to make them look relevant to ABC. There’s no way Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World and all these films that are popular [that would be nominated] are going to make people tune in to see which one wins, because at that point, who cares?”

The insider also pointed out that the bifurcation of the top prize for live-action filmmaking could end up damaging the chances of popular film nominees from winning Best Picture.

“If you get a popular nomination, doesn’t that pretty much mean you’re toast to win Best Picture if you’re also nominated for Best Picture?” the insider said. “You’ve just been labeled a popcorn movie.”

A major film producer, who has backed a Best Picture nominee and several popular blockbuster popcorn movies, agreed that having two categories would dilute the prestige of the award.

“Now we’re saying there should be two awards,” the producer said. “One is the Rotten Tomato, and the other is the Box Office Mojo. That doesn’t actually seem like a good idea at all.”

Not so, said Shamberg.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Blockbuster movies Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, and Gravity were all recent Best Picture nominees.

“Look at all the nominations that Mad Max: Fury Road got, and won,” he said of the 2015 blockbuster hit. “It didn’t win Best Picture, but it sure got a lot of attention.” (In fact, Fury Road won the most Oscars that year.)

Shamberg also argued that, by forcing Academy members to seriously consider popular movies for Oscar consideration, they may begin to see those movies in a different light, and not be so ready to dismiss them as popcorn fluff.

“This is a way to get everybody to think differently about the show — the audience and the Academy voters,” he said. “Maybe it will drive a lot voters to see movies that they don’t normally see. The artistry in Black Panther is undeniable. It’s just undeniable.”

Several people who spoke to BuzzFeed News also pointed to the Academy’s recent efforts to substantively make its membership younger and more diverse as a positive and effective way to change which kinds of films get nominated.

“I think the need for another category will be less relevant in the future because of the changes the Academy is making to the membership,” said Ben Grossman, who won a Best Visual Effects Oscar for 2012’s Hugo. “As it gets younger and more diverse, the nominations will reflect an appetite for movies more inline with popular opinion.”

“I have no idea how you’re going to come up with any kind of criteria that is not going to just aggravate the hell out of people.”

Just what the word “popular” even means with regard to this category remains unclear — the Academy has only clarified that films nominated for the new category would also be eligible for Best Picture. That vacuum has spurred a great deal of the confusion and apprehension about the popular film category, as well as speculation that it may not ever come to pass.

“We’ll see what happens,” said the insider. “[The Academy] may just say, ‘Ah, never mind, we’re going to think this out a little more.’ Because clearly, it’s not well thought out.”

Either way, the ability to please everyone is likely next to impossible.

“I have no idea how you’re going to come up with any kind of criteria that is not going to just aggravate the hell out of people,” the producer said.

He also noted that Netflix, which famously does not divulge viewership numbers for any of its films or TV shows, would run into serious problems getting its features nominated for the popular films category. Then he stopped short, and laughed.

“If this is some brilliant strategy that is designed to force Netflix to reveal their [audience] metrics,” he said, “maybe I could get behind it.”

Michael Blackmon and Krystie Yandoli contributed to this report.