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Is Black Panther getting a best picture Oscar nomination really that important?

In an outcome that was equal parts surprising and expected, Black Panther received an Oscar nomination for best picture last week. I'm only pointing out the obvious when I say there's virtually no chance that it'll go on to win the actual award, but that doesn't really matter. Receiving the nomination marks a huge turning point for Hollywood and the sub-institution that is the awards season race. Never has a superhero film been nominated for best picture, let alone one (the first) to feature a predominantly black cast. As the story goes, the nomination cap was expanded beyond 5 films after The Dark Knight failed to make the cut during the 2008 awards season. And 10 years later, I guess it finally happened? That seems to be the general sentiment around town (figuratively speaking, as I'm not based in Hollywood at all), but why is it even important that a superhero film gets nominated for an Oscar in the first place?

From the standpoint of representation, I think it was important that Black Panther made the social and economical splash it did during the 2018 calendar year. I mean, the movie made more money than Infinity War domestically (not internationally). This is the Infinity War that was 10 years in the making, and literally the biggest superhero orgy of all time. As a commercial film that also had a representation agenda on its back, Black Panther was beyond successful. It achieved everything it needed to achieve, and for all those involved, getting an Oscar nomination is cool, but not that important.

What was important was for a film like Moonlight to have received the formal accolades it did 2 years ago, because a film like Moonlight was never engineered to be a large-scale commercial success. It's a quietly crafted piece of cinema that needed to be championed as the accepted norm for critical success, because a film like this had never achieved that before. Much like Black Panther, representation was rightfully meshed into conversations about Moonlight. But its fight in the representation game was during awards season, and so it was important that it win that fight on that particular stage. With Black Panther being a blockbuster film from Marvel Studios and Disney, its stage was completely different from the very start.

The important thing is that both films are winners, regardless of how you want to look at things. I just think the importance of Black Panther getting an Oscar nomination has been somewhat overstated. And although it's certainly a turning point for a superhero movie to get a best picture nomination, I think it means more for the Oscars than it does for the general superhero genre. As I've said before, superhero movies have their own stage to play on, and winning awards is something that lands in a whole different arena. There's of course exceptions to this, wherein a superhero movie should be praised during awards season. Most people will probably agree that only The Dark Knight and Logan would be examples of this.

And that's why Black Panther getting a best picture nomination is a bigger deal for the Oscars than it is for the film itself. The nomination indicates that the Academy has certainly shifted its paradigm to favour 'popularity', albeit not in the misguided manner that they were initially thinking of doing things (ie. the 'most popular film' category). It might also clear the stigma amongst some of the aging Academy members that superhero movies aren't truly Oscar worthy, and thus, avoiding a potential mishap when the next Dark Knight (or Logan) comes along. Though to be fair, both films did get Oscar nominations in the end, I suppose just not in the 'right' category.

Either way, Black Panther getting nominated for best picture is definitely a game changer. But not necessarily in the way that's mostly being reported. The nomination was important for jigging up the industry at large, but it wasn't actually that important for the film in question. It was important for BlacKkKlansman to get that nomination, and equally important to note that If Beale Street Could Talk unfortunately didn't. But for Black Panther, the nomination was simply icing on a cake that was already quite perfect.


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