- Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- “Black Panther” is the first superhero movie to be nominated for the best picture Oscar, but it hit all the right notes to break down barriers.
- It was a box-office sensation, well-reviewed, and a cultural phenomenon – it could be a long time before another superhero movie rises to the same level.
- A lack of recognition in other major categories for “Black Panther” shows the genre still has a long way to go before it has a real chance of winning best picture.
When Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” lost out on a best picture nomination at the 2009 Oscars, it sparked a major backlash. The following year, the Academy raised the number of best picture nominations from five to 10 (any number of films between five and 10 can now be nominated).
A decade later, a superhero movie has finally been nominated for Oscars’ top prize. This year’s nominations were announced on Tuesday, and Disney and Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” became one of eight movies from 2018 eyeing the award.
That’s a major achievement for the movie, but the genre still has a long way to go before it is fully embraced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – and that might not happen for years to come.
Everything had to go right for “Black Panther” for it to get that best picture nomination, and it will likely be a long time before another superhero movie works that same kind of magic.
The movie was the biggest movie at the domestic box office in 2018 with over $700 million and one of the best-reviewed movies of the year with a 97% Rotten Tomatoes critic score and a bonafide cultural phenomenon. It was the first superhero movie to feature a predominantly black cast, in an African setting never before seen in the genre.
Furthermore, this was the first time that Marvel seriously pushed for one of its movies in the Oscar race. Disney hired an Oscar strategist last year, with financial backing from Marvel, to launch a campaign.
“Black Panther” did too many things right and raised the bar so high that the Academy (the voting body for the Oscars) couldn’t possibly ignore it, especially in the aftermath of recent Oscar debacles like the “Oscars So White” controversy and the short-lived “popular Oscar” fiasco.
After two straight years of all-white acting nominees (2015 and 2016), people took to Twitter with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, forcing the Academy to diversity its membership in response. In 2018, the Academy added a record 925 members to its ranks, raising its membership to over 9,200.
The “popular Oscar” was a new category that the Academy announced last year, which would have gone into effect for next months’ awards had it not been quickly reversed. The award was met with fierce online backlash, and the Academy pulled it from this year’s ceremony. It might revisit the idea in the future, but “Black Panther’s” nomination raises the question of whether it even needs to.
Both incidents represented the Academy’s push to be more “in touch” with audiences, either as a reaction or a voluntary effort. Snubbing the biggest movie of the year in the biggest category at the Oscars -especially one that broke racial barriers – would have been very “out of touch.”
The superhero genre still has a lot of hurdles to jump
“Black Panther” managed to break through in the best picture race and was nominated in craft categories such as production design, costume design, sound editing, sound mixing, original score, and original song for Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars.”
But the lack of “Black Panther” nominations in some major categories – such as Ryan Coogler for director, Michael B. Jordan for supporting actor, and adapted screenplay – suggest the genre still has plenty of obstacles to overcome before it has a real chance of winning the film industry’s most coveted prize.
In the years between “Black Panther” and “The Dark Knight,” the genre didn’t find recognition in other major categories until last year, when “Logan” was nominated for adapted screenplay. “Wonder Woman,” the first female-led superhero movie to be a box-office sensation, didn’t even land a single nomination last year.
What other upcoming superhero movies could reach the same level as “Black Panther” in the eyes of the Academy? “Captain Marvel” in March? “Wonder Woman 1984” next summer? Probably not, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see one hit all the right notes that “Black Panther” did for some time.
The 91st Academy Awards air February 24 at 8 p.m. on ABC.