Black Panther has already recalibrated the way Hollywood views its product, proving that a film starring a predominantly black cast can not only become a cultural phenomena, but a box office smash. With today’s announcement of the 2019 Academy Awards nominations, it’s now redefined how comic book movies are regarded in terms of classic filmmaking appraisal, as the Marvel Studios epic has become the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination.
The writing was already on the wall: Black Panther received recognition from the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Screen Actors guild. But the Oscars are another level of prestige all together, and the film’s inclusion alongside nominees like The Favourite, A Star is Born, Roma, and Vice is a landmark moment.
It was 10 years ago that the Motion Picture Academy chose to expand their Best Picture category from five to up to 10 nominees. The move came after many criticized the Academy for refusing to give Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight recognition in the major categories (that is, Best Director and Picture) despite its eight other nominations.
At first, the shift led to films like Inception, District 9, and UP — movies popular amongst audiences but not as high-brow as those usually considered Oscar-worthy — appearing on nominations lists. Eventually, however, a status quo seemed to return, as popular blockbusters failed to break through. The Academy proposed a new “popular movie” category last year to rectify this, though it quickly backed down amid outcry over the ill-defined stipulations. Critics were also concerned films like Black Panther or A Star is Born, crossover hits that were both box office and critical successes, would be relegated to the second-tier award.
Superhero tales like Wonder Woman and Logan previously failed to make the Best Picture cut (though the former’s sloppy third act arguably excludes it from consideration and the latter did become the first superhero movie to receive a writing category nod), but it’s fitting that Black Panther would be the one to bring such recognition to the genre. Beyond its status as the third-highest grossing domestic film of all time ($700,059,566, unadjusted for inflation), it’s a cultural milestone. The movie connected with a historically underrepresented demographic without pandering and while maintaining a wide appeal; for the Academy to recognize that and not simply see it as a comic book blockbuster is a notable moment.
Even if you argued that cultural relevance played into the film’s nomination as much as its actual quality (it’s certainly the first nominee to feature CGI War Rhinos), the nomination widens the interpretation of what defines the Best Picture.
Black Panther received seven nominations overall, including Best Original Score (Ludwig Goransson), Best Original Song (Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars”), Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart), Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter), Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. It may still be an underdog for the big prize, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the movie take home some gold on when the 91st Academy Awards air Sunday, February 24th on ABC.