I realize this is a double-edged sword, that if science fiction movies or fantasy movies or comic-book noirs or whatever make it into an expanded Best Picture category, it might get treated as filler rather than as a serious contender. But even if that’s how something like District 9 makes it into contention, I think on the whole it’s better to have it, or Avatar, or Inglourious Basterds (2010 was a good year for genre diversity) up against more conventional nominees like An Education, which hits a certain sophisticated period sweet spot, or The Blind Side or Precious, that year’s issue movies. If folks keep seeing aliens next to British thespians on their ballots and their clip shows, at some point they’ll be forced to think about why those stories are powerful to people, and why genre fiction is a vehicle for powerful, beautiful, expressive storytelling.
I do think at some point, when we’ve finished a generational shift, the Academy will become dramatically more accommodating to genre movies as the people who have devoted substantial chunks of their careers to those kinds of stories come of age. But until that happens, we’re going to keep having conversations about the Academy’s preference for certain kinds of bland moral lessons in a way that diverges from audiences’ tastes.