As we discuss how awful the snubs at the Oscars are (and wonder why Green Book keeps winning despite several controversies), it’s time to celebrate one history-making nomination. Marvel received their first Best Picture nomination for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, the box office smash and critical sensation that dominated a great deal of the cultural conversation in 2018. Released in the doldrums of February, the film emerged as a bonafide hit, and has been a shoo-in for a nod since March at the very least.
The film centers on Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, the newly crowned king of Wakanda who must decide whether or not to open Wakanda’s borders and share its wealth and secrets with the world as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) plots to take the throne from him. The film is an epic in the strongest sense of the world, with stellar performances, breathtaking visuals, and Marvel’s strongest script to date. It takes classic themes and gives them to us in a way we’ve never seen before with characters too often only given to white actors to play.
Black Panther is not only Marvel’s first Best Picture nominee, but the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture from any studio. The conversation about superhero’s worth in the category began with 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s sprawling crime saga with a Batman twist. Since then, people have been clamoring for a superhero film to take a spot in the top ten films of the year. In fact, it was supposed to be the lack of nomination for The Dark Knight that inspired the expansion to ten nominees rather than five.
Genre films, including superhero films, have long been excluded from the Oscars. While some have slipped through and seen victory, such as Silence of the Lambs, the original Star Wars, or The Return of the King (which was really an award for the whole trilogy), for the most part Oscar-winning films tend to be dramas. Even comedies tend to be pushed to the sidelines. The expansion to ten nominees allows for films such as District 9, Inception, and Max Max: Fury Road to be nominated, but none have taken home the top prize.
Black Panther‘s nomination shows that a superhero film can be taken into serious consideration during awards season, but it also represents something else: the artistic heights that can be reached by the genre. Similarly to how The Dark Knight challenged the idea of comic book movies being silly and corny, Black Panther showed that with the right director and story, you can soar beyond the constraints critics perceived on the genre.
There have been groundbreaking superhero films that have changed expectations of the genre. The Avengers proved team-up films could work, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnarok shook up the genre in fresh and inventive ways, and Wonder Woman proved that the stories could center on protagonists who weren’t men (and that women can direct superhero films just fine). But Black Panther defied all expectation on every level, creating a beautifully fully realized and diverse world and populating it with rich characters. It deserves its place among the best films of the year.
Black Panther should set the standard for future projects. While the same cultural movement cannot happen around every film, filmmakers should strive to have their films be as quality on every level as Coogler did with Black Panther. Continue to soar above the crowd, and the nominations hopefully will come. It’s time for the genre to get the recognition it deserves, and I can think of no better film to lead that charge than Black Panther.
It is also worth noting that Marvel’s first female production designer, Hannah Beachler, was nominated for production design for the film. She is the first Black production designer nominated in the category. The film continues to make history wherever it goes.
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