Black Panther's three Oscars wins are a triumph for Marvel Studios, but they also show that superhero films still have a long way to go before they take the Best Picture prize. Marvel fans will never forget the 2019 Oscars, with Marvel Studios in the running for Best Picture and winning their first Oscars, while Sony's Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse won Best Animated Picture. For years, superhero fans have complained that the Oscars tend to ignore their favorite films, but that's no longer the case.
Black Panther picked up no less than seven well-deserved nominations in the 91st Academy Awards, and ultimately won in three of them; Ruth E. Carter's work was rewarded with Best Costume Design, Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart won Best Production Design, and Ludwig Göransson received the Academy Award for Best Original Score. All three of these awards recognize the incredible amount of work the production team put into Black Panther. Given the film's focus on diversity, it's appropriate that Ruth E. Carter was also the first African-American woman to win in the field of Best Costume Design.
Related: Full Oscars 2019 Winners List
This is an incredible achievement for Marvel Studios, and no doubt Kevin Feige and his team will be celebrating it. But, crucially, it's also a reminder of the limits placed on the superhero genre at major awards.
First of all, notice that not only were all these wins were in technical categories, but they were still groundbreaking for comic book-inspired films. Black Panther was the exception, not the norm, with director Ryan Coogler's team going above and beyond to build an entire fictional country from the ground up: Marvel sent scouts to several African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Zambia; they purchased real African goods and fabric, ranging from leather hide infused with metal to traditional neck-rings and ancient garb, and used them as part of the costume and set designs. Carter reportedly went so far as to prepare a 500-page history of Wakanda in order to ensure everything was consistent.
The amount of work that was put in to win awards often populated by faithful recreations of historical locations is striking. On the one hand, Black Panther had more effort put into its world than almost any superhero film before it, but at the same, the bar for success was so unfairly high.
But that's nothing on the Best Picture situation. It's true for all blockbusters, not just superhero movies, but the Academy still seems reluctant to award them the top prize. In fact, this time the Academy even proposed the creation of a new category, Best Popular Picture, and it was essentially framed as a consolation prize for tentpole films like Black Panther; there was a fierce backlash, and the idea was dropped. Marvel and Disney, to their credit, never seem to have considered Black Panther for anything other than Best Picture, and they put up a good fight - but they didn't win it. Faced with what was seen as a toss-up between Roma and Black Panther, the Academy opted for Green Book, a film that took a very neat approach to the tangled issue of racism. 2019 was the year Marvel forced the Academy to consider their films, yet they are still reluctant to award them. Marvel - and its contemporaries - will need to push them a little bit more in terms of overall quality if they want to get that coveted Best Picture Oscar.
There is no escaping here that Black Panther is something of an odd one out. Logan received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination last year, but that was unlike anything else in the superhero genre. And Black Panther was as much a meditation on race and colonialism as it was a whizz-bang spectacle. Indeed, one need only look at Avengers: Infinity War, which despite being the highest-grossing blockbuster of 2018 only earned a nomination for Best Visual Effects; the culmination of 18 previous movies, it's big but involved story simply isn't what awards bodies will gravitate towards. If Marvel wants to be in the running in future Oscar ceremonies, they'll need to balance out their ensemble movies with more self-contained stories like Black Panther.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019