The confusing success of ‘Black Widow’ and the populism of the Emmys

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The 2021 Emmy Award nominations were announced on July 13, with shows like “The Mandalorian” and “The Crown” sweeping major categories. Photo by Joe Seer/Shutterstock

Marvel Studios’ superhero spy thriller “Black Widow” opened last weekend to the tune of $215 million in global revenue. Those earnings come partly due to the film’s dual release in theaters and on Disney+ the same day. Disney boasted that the $30 upcharge raked in $60 million, with domestic theatrical screenings clearing $80 million. 

While the release initially appears to be a success, a closer look at variables like box office dropoff and multi-person viewing at home amounted to a muddled narrative. Further confounding the data is the pandemic, which makes it difficult to know how many viewers opted to stay home rather than go to the theater, and vice versa. With these different factors, it’s unclear what long-term effect(s) the dual theater-PVOD model has on the film industry. 

On the TV side, nominees for the 2021 Emmy Awards were announced on Tuesday. The confusing and far-flung list of nods has left many scratching their heads, with only 12 shows receiving more than single-digit nominations. Prestige shows, like HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” received a fair share of recognition, but so did less typical popcorn fare like Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” and Disney+’s “The Mandalorian,” which earned 24 nominations, including Best Drama. Meanwhile, critical favorites like Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird” were snubbed. 

The shake-up is partly due to a newly democratized Emmys voting system, allowing all Television Academy members to cast their ballots for an unlimited number of nominees in a broader range of categories. As a result, a slew of major and minor cast members from shows like Netflix’s “The Crown” and the filmed version of Broadway’s “Hamilton” on HBO have crowded the major acting categories. 

These nomination trends may indicate that Academy members are watching the same cluster of heavily-advertised shows that have received more media attention, rather than branching out to shows and actors that could greatly benefit from nominations.  

The recent trend towards populist voting has sparked a movement over the past few years to try to streamline the system and get voter committees to commit to watching a certain number of shows towards a more representative breadth of nominees. This year’s nominees may finally push the Academy in that direction. 

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Kim Masters