Oscars 2019: Why 'Black Panther' really deserves that best-picture nod
USA TODAY film critic Brian Truitt predicts who will take home an Oscar this year and who really deserves it. USA TODAY
Academy Awards nominations don’t always get it right, but this year, the Oscars killed it: The first superhero movie to really deserve an Oscar nod for best picture got one.
Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther” roared to seven nominations as Hollywood heads into the 91st annual Academy Awards on Sunday Feb. 24 (ABC, 8 ET/5 PT). It scored mostly in technical categories, but it landed the one that matters the most and everyone wants.
Of the history being made this Oscars year – thank goodness Spike Lee is finally getting best-picture and best-director accolades for “BlacKkKlansman,” and hats off to “Taxi Driver” writer Paul Schrader earning his first screenplay nod for “First Reformed” – “Black Panther” means more to those outside Hollywood and especially to us superhero junkies who've been yearning for one of our own to be a major part of Oscar night. Audiences made it the highest-grossing movie of 2018, and the motion picture academy also apparently considers it quite a standout.
Superhero films for the longest time have missed out on the honor for any number of reasons, like the academy snootily not seeing them as “quality” films, perhaps. With a voting contingent becoming younger and more diverse and superhero projects taking up more breathing room in pop culture, it was only a matter of time.
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“Superman” scored four Oscar nominations but no best picture in 1979 – which was fine because I was 3 and couldn't stay up that late. “Batman” was nominated (and won) for production design but no best picture in 1990 – more of a bummer, yet there was more competition that year, with "Driving Miss Daisy" running everybody off the road. “The Dark Knight” came along as a critical hit with eight nominations (and an eventual win for Heath Ledger) but, again, no best picture. It was a shortcoming that seemed egregious at the time and undoubtedly led to the Oscars expanding the field from five nominees to at most 10.
“Dark Knight” should have been that first superhero best-picture nominee – that is, until you consider how inclusive and important a cultural achievement “Black Panther” became. One was a really great "Batman" movie; the other’s a populist movement. This is the one we've been waiting for, folks.
Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther means so much to a generation of children of all races, but especially to black audiences who were touched by seeing a hero of color – and themselves – in such a prominent position on a big screen. Hannah Beachler became the first African American to earn a production design nomination for her excellent Afro-futuristic Wakandan landscape. "Black Panther" sadly didn't get any acting nominations – even with Michael B. Jordan's supremely excellent supporting villain just sitting right there, people! – but there’s still a lot for viewers to have a rooting interest in this Oscar night.
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So can it win? Will everybody be yelling “Wakanda forever!” as the show ends? “Black Panther” has some serious competition: “Roma” and “The Favourite” each have 10 nominations (with the former gaining momentum in awards season), and “Green Book” took the bellwether Producers Guild Awards honor, which has matched the best-picture winner 20 out of 29 years (though only once in the past three).
Maybe it wins. Maybe it’s a victory just by nabbing a nomination. No less a phenomenon either way, “Black Panther” will have a large contingent of viewers wanting that huge prize.
It has already made history. Who doesn't want to see it make some more?