We’re mere days away from the 2018 Oscars, and already the film industry is gearing up for next year’s race. Awards campaigning is a year-round commitment in Hollywood, now more so than ever, as the decades-long assumed rules of the system have completely changed – which could mean that Black Panther is in with a shot at next year’s awards.
This time last year, if you had told any awards prognosticator that one of the front-runners for Best Picture would be a low-budget satirical horror about race and the hypocrisies of white liberalism – one released in the supposed box office desert that is February, and written and directed by a debut filmmaker who was one half of Key & Peele – you would have been laughed out of the room. Now, Get Out isn’t just the film to root for: It’s helped to shift everything we know about the madness of the Oscar season. Add to that a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Logan – the first superhero film to do so – and it seems like everything we knew about Oscars could be changing.
This Page: Superhero Movies and The Oscars
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RELATED: When Will Black Panther 2 Release?
Black Panther Has Changed The Superhero Game
As of the writing of this piece, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made close to $728m worldwide in just under two weeks. It’s received near universal acclaim, landing a “Certified Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%. Ryan Coogler’s masterful adaptation of the Black Panther character isn’t just a critical and commercial smash hit: It’s a cultural moment whose influence will be felt long after the movie has left multiplexes. It doesn’t seem unfeasible that such a film, so beloved and impactful, may stick around long enough to garner some legitimate awards love come the end of 2018. As early as it may seem for us to even be talking about this, the chances are that the executives at Disney have been asking themselves the same question. Why not push Black Panther as a genuine Oscar contender?
The long-accepted status quo of the Academy Awards is that big-budget summer blockbusters don’t win Oscars. The assumption that they are not and cannot be viewed as “prestigious” remains in place, despite countless examples to the contrary. There are “Oscar films” – serious dramas, often period pieces, full of big acting and noble intentions – and then there are the movies for the masses, the ones designed to entertain but never invite consideration of cinematic legitimacy. This wasn’t always the case.
Why Superhero Movies Struggle At The Oscars
Once upon a time, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars were all Best Picture nominees, and it wasn’t unusual for them to be considered alongside Barry Lyndon, Chariots of Fire and Annie Hall. Various forces led to the increasing division between “Oscar bait” and the Lucas-Spielberg pioneered blockbuster film-making. A big reason such films stopped being considered for awards in the ways they used to be is that studios no longer needed promotional boosts like the ones the Academy Awards provided. Star Wars would make money regardless of whether or not it got a Best Picture nomination. Smaller films, more adult-oriented dramas without that international reach, did still desire that push. Studios didn’t need to put money behind getting the latest Indiana Jones movie award nominations. That cash could be better served in reaching international markets. Generally speaking, a film’s prestige isn’t what brings in audiences to the latest multi-million dollar special-effects heavy explosion fest.
This continued well into the mid-2000s, with obvious exceptions like Titanic and The Lord of the Rings, but it wasn’t until the Academy widened the Best Picture category to 10 potential nominees that mainstream blockbuster fare started to be recognized. Inception got a Best Picture nomination, as did Mad Max: Fury Road and Gravity, among others. Most of these films didn’t go home empty handed, particularly in technical categories, but the “bigger” awards eluded them. Their achievements as dazzling spectacles would be rewarded, but not viewed as an overall package of film-making excellence in the way more Oscar friendly movies are. Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road can sweep the technical categories, but you always knew it would never win Best Picture.
Amst this incremental change, there remained a growing gap between the prestigious norm and the new forces of blockbuster cinema: Superhero films didn’t make the cut. It’s a repeat of the previous generation in that regard – the next Avengers movie is easily going to make a billion dollars, and it doesn’t matter if it is seen as a good film in the eyes of 6000 or so Academy members. It doesn’t help that good old fashioned snobbery has kept genre cinema out of the running with the Oscars for decades. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and even comedy struggle with this group of voters. Add in lots of special effects and it becomes easy for them to be written off as mere popcorn fare. As those movies have grown in both popularity and quality, it seems inevitable that one will land a Best Picture nomination one day. Even the Academy can’t ignore this. Right now, Black Panther feels like the most likely option, and deservedly so.
Cinema is different now, but so is the Academy. After the push back to the institution’s glaring lack of diversity, inspired by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, they announced plans to double their membership’s female and people of color numbers by 2020. The first fruits of that efforts seemed evident in last year’s Oscars, as Moonlight surprised all predictions to win Best Picture. A 2016 boost in membership numbers saw 683 new additions to their ranks: 46% of them were women, and 41% were people of color. We’ve no idea how they voted, obviously, but it’s not hard to imagine that such a change to the old white male demographics of the Academy had a measurable influence on the awards themselves. These are voters who aren’t as averse to recognizing the merits of superhero cinema like their elders, particularly one with a majority black cast and creative team.
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