Black Panther cannot be nominated for any Academy Awards until next January and yet it was the talk of last night’s Oscars® ceremony. Host Jimmy Kimmel hilighted the film in his opening monologue and later joked that it had made another $48 million since the broadcast started. Black Panther was also featured alongside Wonder Woman in a montage about the power of representation on screen.
Two of the film’s stars, Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) and Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), presented during the show while Danai Gurira (Okoye) and Winston Duke (M’Baku) were also in attendance. Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi) was there for his Best Actor nomination for Get Out, but also joined his Black Panther castmates on the red carpet.
As wonderful as it was to see Black Panther celebrated last night, the film deserves more than an honorary place at the Oscars®. The Ryan Coogler-directed film warrants strong consideration in several categories for next year’s ceremony. It should remain on the minds of Academy voters all year long, as they watch and evaluate the rest of 2018’s releases.
It’s not lost on me that the year is still young and we’re several months away from usual crop of awards contenders. We obviously have many more films to see in order to know what the field looks like in each category. This isn’t to say Black Panther should be nominated for any one particular Oscar®.
As we saw with Get Out, however, it is not too early to put the Academy and every other award-giving body on notice that something special is happening at the movies thanks to a terrific, expertly-crafted film. With that in mind, let’s break down the categories for which Black Panther ought to receive proper consideration.
No comic book superhero adaptation has ever been nominated for the Academy’s top prize. The Dark Knight came so close in 2008 that the Academy decided to expand the field from five films to as many as ten. That has not helped other potential contenders like The Avengers and Wonder Woman, however, because it is not a “top ten” list.
In order to be nominated for Best Picture, a film has to be ranked in the top spot on at least 5% of all nomination ballots (and those ballots list only five films, not ten). Being chosen as the second best film on an Academy member’s ballot only helps if the film in first place on that ballot is popular enough to qualify for a surplus rule, or the film in first place on that ballot appears at the top of less than 1% of the total number of ballots (via Gold Derby).
The easiest way around the weird “top two” math is to simply have a few hundred Academy members serving as champions for Black Panther. The film has to be good enough, in their eyes, to be called the best movie of the year. That aspect of the Best Picture voting has proven prohibitive for superhero films in the past and Black Panther may fall victim to it as well, but there is cause for hope.
Black Panther is the best reviewed film ever adapted from comic book superheroes. Many feel it is the best superhero-based film of all time, so maybe this will finally be the year one of them breaks through. There haven’t been very many barriers that have stood a chance against Black Panther, so perhaps this one will fall as well.
This one might be even tougher than Best Picture, but not many predicted Jordan Peele would get a Best Director nomination for Get Out early last year and look what happened. Ryan Coogler has drawn high praise for his work on Black Panther and cemented his status as one of the best filmmakers working today.
He has a lot of momentum that could continue into the awards circuit, so even though it’s hardly the most likely nomination the film could receive, I won’t rule it out either. If Black Panther gets nominated in several key categories, it’s hard to deny Coogler as the person who assembled such a talented team and led them to success.
Black Panther has been hailed over and over again for its craftsmanship, character work, and storytelling. High levels of achievement in all of those respects only happen when a great director is at the helm.
Chadwick Boseman is outstanding in Black Panther. He gives a nuanced yet powerful performance as a man reconciling the value (and hidden faults) of tradition with the responsibility of championing progress for a better future for all. Unfortunately, Boseman may not get much of a look for Best Actor.
No lead actor has ever been nominated from a superhero film. With Hugh Jackman not even getting an ounce of consideration for Logan last year, we might be closer to getting a Best Picture nomination for a superhero movie than Best Actor or Actress.
While everyone agrees Boseman is great in Black Panther, the film is being praised more as an ensemble than for any one leading performance. That’s the way it should be, as everyone in the film is fantastic, but it can hurt the chances of a lead actor when the film is already part of a genre for which lead actors have never been recognized.
Who is the lead actress in Black Panther? Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o probably qualifies, but Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright have roles that are just as big. That is why I think they are all more likely to be considered for the Best Supporting Actress category.
Best Adapted Screenplay
We have finally hit on a category for which a superhero-based movie has actually been nominated. It just happened, for the first time, with Logan. Now that comic book adaptations are in play, the Academy has no excuse not to look at a screenplay in which Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole wove the heaviest, most relevant social themes in the genre’s history into a satisfying, optimistic superhero spectacle.
People are not talking about the screenplay as much as they should, as this is a category for which Black Panther deserves as much consideration as any other.