Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-
What’s different this time?
The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-
Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.
OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.
This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.
There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.