Is Black Panther a fantastic blockbuster? Yes.
Should it be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year?
Yet in just under a month’s time, it will compete at the 92st Academy Awards in what is undoubtedly a revolutionary and slightly unexpected step for the normally snooty and pretentious ceremony. And one that this writer finds condescending in a way that threatens to ruin the credibility of the awards, as well as being, frankly, an insult to the film in question’s greatness, (even if that might not necessarily mean ‘Best Picture’ great, I hasten to add.)
I say this with trepidation, of course, because this subject is increasingly touchy. Any conversation within sniffing distance of this viewpoint has become nothing short of a minefield in recent years. And much of it, for good reason, as so much long-overdue progress has been made as a result of to these debates and movements.
Yet I can’t help but find it a shame that the Oscars felt the need to give a nod to a movie they would normally never even come close to recognising – aside from perhaps in Best Original Song or the Special Effects categories – for its highest and most prestigious honour. This film is better than being pandered to in such a way, in my opinion.
Many believe that Black Panther’s surprise inclusion in the Best Picture category this year – where it competes against more traditional Oscar fodder like The Favourite and Roma – is nothing more than a brazen PR move, in the continued effort to respond to criticisms of the awards whitewashing in recent years. (We all remember that selfie, right?)
Is it good that the Oscars is evolving as a result of this criticism? Yes, of course it is. And thanks to this conversation, there has been a significant increase in the number of remarkable films that are showcasing more diversity, as well as appealing to traditional Oscar requirements. Two years ago, of course, Moonlight famously beat La La Land, and deservedly, too – following an incredibly awkward mistake during the announcement, which was, in fact, more dramatic than any scene from either film – and movies like Hidden Figures and Fences (or Hidden Fences, as Michael Keaton described his accidental mesh of the two during his cringe-y gaffe in 2017,) and Get Out have also been displaying the talents of black Hollywood to wider audiences – moreso than ever before.
In this year’s nominations, alongside Black Panther, the critically acclaimed BlacKkKlansman is further proof that Hollywood is finally making more room for talented visionaries of colour, and then giving them their deserved recognition for that work, accordingly.
Is that battle completely won yet? No it isn’t. But is it helping at all to be giving undeserved nominations in an attempt to balance the field? I think not. Doesn’t it discredit the work of those who actually are producing Oscar-worthy films? Some would argue such transparent positive discrimination is, in fact, actually setting us back.
The fact of the matter is, Black Panther doesn’t need a pat on the back from the Academy Awards. It was the highest grossing film of last year domestically in the US, and second globally – behind only its sister film Avengers: Infinity War – collecting a staggering $1.347 billion at the global box office. And that aside, it has made an immeasurable cultural impact on film. In years to come, we will surely look back on the influence of Black Panther on diversity in Hollywood, and the Ryan Coogler-directed smash will be rightly praised for what it has achieved.
But quite simply, it is not an Oscar film. Or what we have previously been taught to believe is an Oscar film, anyway. It is the first comic book hero movie that has ever been nominated for Best Picture. And while it is obviously good fun, in truth, it isn’t even the best comic book hero movie of the 21st century, never mind of all time. If these kind of movies were historically recognised, then films like Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class and Wonder Woman might have found themselves in contention in their respective years. But they weren’t. Perhaps because nominating them served no clear and convenient PR purpose for the awards ceremony, I daresay.
Some have long made the argument for more popular and commercial blockbusters to be represented at the Academy Awards, and if the Oscars is now, all of a sudden, actually shifting its values on that front, then fair enough. But I highly doubt next year we’ll be seeing the new Avengers movie competing against an indie arthouse film. Imagine!
Or will the blockbuster nominations only be applicable to casts and directors that give the Academy a helping hand in inflating their diversity inclusion? What next? Will we see the next Nutty Professor movie up for Best Picture? Kevin Hart competing for Best Actor for his moving role in Ride Along 3?
It’s a tricky subject to criticise. More diversity on screen can only be a good thing. But this nomination, in particular, is grating purely because of how inauthentic it is.
Black Panther should be winning Best Film at some MTV Awards or something. Not competing at the Academy Awards. The key to moving forward with the issue of diversity in the arts won’t be hollow inclusion. Especially when it’s unnecessary, given there are plenty of diverse films that are actually worthy of the recognition anyway.
It’s certainly not the end of the world, and we don’t need a superhero to put this right. And congrats to Black Panther, regardless, because in my view what it has already done is worth far more than any gold statuette. I just hope it’s not a sign of things to come for how the Oscars plans to respond to its prior failings from here on out.
Anyway, I’d better wrap this up, before they start the play-off music…