For the first time in Academy Award history, a superhero film has been nominated for Best Picture. It is not uncommon for superhero films to be nominated for awards — or even to win them. After all, Heath Ledger famously won an Oscar for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Numerous superhero films have been nominated for technical awards in effects and sound design, which are instrumental and important aspects of film making.
But Black Panther is the first to have a real shot at winning Best Picture of the Year. There are numerous arguments as to why it ought to win and why it shouldn’t. Without taking a side, here are a few reasons why Black Panther ought to win Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards (as well as why it shouldn’t).
10 (Should) An Incredibly Well-Made Film
It is not a radical statement to say it takes an incredible amount of hard work to make a superhero film.Â Black Panther is the product of experts working their best. Sound design. Editing. Special effects. Make-up. Set design. Music. Thousands of peopleÂ working tirelesslyÂ crafted one of the best looking, sounding, and paced superhero films ever made.
Yes, Black Panther is nominated for several technical awards that it most likely will win, but its technical achievements set it apart from its competition.
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9 (Shouldn’t) The Academy Seldom Rewards Representation
Black PantherÂ is an achievement for representing a vast amount of people. Historically, however, the Academy has not issued Best Picture Awards to films that push representation in new, incredible directions.
Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple featured a cast full of people of color. 11 Nominations. No win. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a mainstream hit portraying a same-sex couple? It lost to Crash. And Spike Lee has only just gotten a film nominated after a decades-long career of culturally resonantÂ films.
There are, of course, obvious exceptions. 12 Years a Slave. Moonlight. Midnight Cowboy. But these are exceptions. Not a trend.
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8 (Should) Superhero Films Deserve Recognition
For many years, mafia and horror films were considered genre affairs that never gained cultural recognition from the Academy Awards. Then, around the early 70s, The Exorcist nabbed a nomination for Best Picture, while The Godfather I and II won the Oscars for Best Picture. Silence of the Lambs winning Best Picture changed the critical dialog about the horror genre. As did Get Out winning an Oscar last year.
While Black Panther is a great and important film in and of itself, it winning the Best Picture Award will validate superhero films as a genre worthy of critical merit (in the eyes of the Academy, since audiences have known this for decades already).
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7 (Should)Â It Avoids the Tropes of Good vs Evil
Very often, the films that win Best Picture do not fall back on typical conflicts of good and evil. They feature very existential conflicts. They feature family plots or the protagonist combating the conflicts of the self.
Black Panther’s core conflict circles around dealing with legacy and history. It focuses on changing a system that has failed the world. But at the same time, never at any point are any obvious answers presented. Yes, the film emphasizes a specific moral that T’Challa internalizes and uses to grow as a king, but the conflict is presented as real and political and multi-faceted. You understand why the old kings of Wakanda followed their isolationist policies, but the film demonstrates why that needs to change, too, and the consequences of those actions.
That moral ambiguity earns it brownie points in the Academy.
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6 (Should) It Offers Relevant Social Commentary
While the Academy tends not to reward diversity, it does reward social commentary.
Many films have text and subtext. There is no doubt that Black Panther has a rich plot, as well as a rich subtext. Consider for a moment winners from the 70s, such as The Godfather and Rocky. Both films belong to popular genres, yet were rewarded by the Academy for featuring rich subtext (the immigrant experience in the former and the underdog go-the-distance message of the latter). This continues to the present day. Films like Shakespeare in Love featured significant subtextual commentary on storytelling, as did last year’s The Shape of Water. Black Panther‘s subtextual commentaries on race and culture in the 21st Century might help it get Best Picture.
5 (Shouldn’t)Â The Academy’s Tastes
Typically speaking, the Academy loves two types of films: historical fiction and contemporary realism. They regularly win Best Picture.
There are exceptions, but even those exceptions often feature elements of those two in them. Last year’s The Shape of Water is a fantasy film, yes, but it also takes place in the historical context of the 50s, featuring issues relevant to that era, such as prejudice and Cold War paranoia (as well as old Hollywood imagery, another favorite of the Academy).
Black Panther is the only film in the running for Best Picture that does not fit this category. This makes it an outlier for what the Academy usually rewards.
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4 (Should)Â The Academy Likes Epics
Black Panther is an epic film, taking place across the whole world, featuring various periods of time, revolving around numerous characters and cultures intermingling (even within Wakanda).
The Academy may like their realistic dramas, but they love epics as well. The Godfather is an epic mafia story, telling a story that spans a decade. Ben-Hur. Dances with Wolves. Braveheart.Â Gladiator. Stories that tell epic, grand dramas do have an edge. With the exception of Dances with Wolves, audiences to this day regard these films as entertaining epics.
If the Academy sees Black Panther as the newest epic, rather than as one of the genre films it dismisses so often, it can win.
3 (Should) The Performances are Powerful
The fact that Michael B Jordan isn’t nominated for his role as Killmonger is either a testament to the numerous terrific performances this year or the Academy isn’t giving the actors in Black Panther enough credit.
Every performance in Black Panther is immediately memorable. It is hard to single out performances, but Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan,Â Lupita Nyong’o,Â Danai Gurira,Â Winston Duke,Â Daniel Kaluuya,Â Letitia Wright — all of them? Fantastic performances. Even though he plays a relatively small role, this is also yet another role where Andy Serkis is ignored by the Academy. Again.
The cast elevated what was already a great film into something so much more.
Oh yeah, and the actors involved was the biggest ensemble cast of people of color in any mainstream film. And they ALL were incredible.
2 (Shouldn’t)Â The “Star Wars” Excuse
This is the excuse that is most frustrating to write, but inevitable. Every so often, there is a film that revolutionizes cinema, becomes cultural short-hand for movies, and changes the medium of storytelling forever. And the Academy just doesn’t care, because the films that lost were “genre films.”
There are of course genre films that do win Best Picture. Silence of the Lambs is a good example of this. But most often, the films that break the mold are relegated to their category. Beauty and the Beast gets nominated for Best Picture? A new category is made so animated films can be nominated without hurting “real cinema.” Consider how the Academy tried to make a “Popular Film” Award as if trying to justify giving Black Panther recognition.
The best example of this is with Star Wars. The film revolutionized cinema. It helped codify the Summer Blockbuster, like Jaws (also didn’t win). Star Wars lost to Annie Hall, because Annie Hall is what the Academy likes. Black Panther revolutionized cinema by pushing diversity to new heights. But to the Academy, it might just be another Star Wars.
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1 (Should) It Forced Hollywood to Re-evaluate Itself
In the last few years, the Academy Awards have been the subject of controversy. 2015 saw the “Why So White?” controversy, which criticized the Academy’s pattern of excluding racially diverse directors and works from their awards. Since then, films like Moonlight, Get Out, and, yes, Black Panther have gotten critical recognition. They even finally nominated Spike Lee, who has been snubbed for since Do the Right Thing.
Black Panther is a cultural landmark. It has forced the Academy to see there are stories to be told that have yet to be seen done in cinema. They clearly tried to make a category (“Best Popular Film”) just to justify giving Black Panther some credit.
Do the right thing, Academy. Black Panther deserves the Oscar for Best Picture.
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