Black Panther doesn’t need an Oscar – it’s the other way around
Black Panther doesn’t need to win an Oscar; it already won 2018. There are few other films that have had such a huge impact on society in recent years and, whether it wins Best Picture at Sunday’s award ceremony or not, it is destined to go down in history as not only a colossal cinematic achievement, but also a cultural phenomenon that has reframed the way the media tells stories of blackness.
The Oscars, however, quite desperately needs to acknowledge the significance of Black Panther in a substantial way, not for the benefit of the film, but for its own sake. We all know that the likelihood of the superhero movie taking home the top prize this weekend is slim, but the chances of the Academy Awards upping its waning popularity by giving Best Picture to, say, Roma are much slimmer.
Last year, the Oscars’ telecast ratings hit an all-time low, dropping by 17 per cent from 2017. Best Picture was awarded to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water, which grossed $195.2 million worldwide. Black Panther grossed $1.3 billion. This is not to say that Oscars should be awarded on the basis of their mainstream popularity, but it probably wouldn’t hurt the ceremony’s ratings to eschew its snobbery around films that the general public actually want to watch, particularly when those films also happen to be extremely important. It seems that Academy voters like to believe that movies must be either slightly boring, depressing or bizarre to be deemed as excellent, condescendingly dismissing the perspective of average viewers because of their own perceived intellectual superiority. But excellent films don’t have to be black and white, heartbreaking and sombre. Excellent films can also be uplifting, powerful and, yes, based on comic books.
There are so many reasons to celebrate Black Panther. For one, it proved to Hollywood once and for all that making racially diverse movies is profitable, and now any justification for the film industry’s nasty habit of whitewashing is simply illegitimate. Plus, it proved that point without making a terribly depressing film about slavery or the impoverished pockets of society, which are usually the subject of films starring a large cast of people of colour.
What’s more, the film also championed gender diversity, with Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Bafta Rising Star 2019 winner Letitia Wright all playing strong women in front of the camera, while Rachel Morrison, Ruth E Carter and Hannah Beachler played key roles behind the scenes, working on the film’s cinematography, production design and costume design, respectively. The whole cast did a phenomenal job of bringing the spirit of the film’s fictional country, Wakanda, to life, with many praising Michael B Jordan’s portrayal of Erik Killmonger as one of the best villains of all time. And, at the helm of it all, the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, managed to turn what could have indeed been a frivolous film into something that has, I believe, genuinely changed society.
While the rest of the films nominated for Best Picture – Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, The Favourite, Roma, Green Book, Vice and BlacKkKlansman – are all brilliant by their own merit, in my eyes, none of them can build a case for winning the award as strong as Black Panther can. Of course, who wins depends on what Academy voters believe constitutes an excellent film, not me, but I still struggle to comprehend how a remake of a musical could be deemed to be more important than the groundbreaking revelation that black people deserve to see themselves represented on screen as anything other than slaves or criminals.
It’s not unlikely that the inclusion of Black Panther in the Oscars’ Best Picture category was nothing more than a strategic move, a ploy to encourage its $1.3bn fanbase to tune in to the awards ceremony on Sunday night, but to dismiss it as such is a mistake. Black Panther has already made history in so many ways – including by being the first superhero film ever to make it into this category – and has won a total of 76 other accolades at different awards ceremonies. If the Academy choose to ignore the evidence that proves this is truly an Oscar-worthy film, then it’s their reputation on the line. Wakanda is forever but, at this rate, the Academy Awards might not be.