Comics on Film: 'Black Panther' Best Picture Nomination Is a Win For All Superhero Fans

Comics on Film: 'Black Panther' Best Picture Nomination Is a Win For All Superhero Fans

Jan 18, 2019

Black Panther

The nominatiom of Black Panther for Best Picture at this year’s forthcoming Academy Awards marks a significant step forward in the conversations surrounding cinematic art and further legitimizes the importance of superheroes as modern myths that descend from the minds of celebrated comics creators like T’Challa’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

While the ascension of Black Panther into the Oscar nomination conversation doesn’t mark the first time that a comics-based film has achieved that level of critical attention, the fact of its nomination should be encouraging for anyone who calls themselves a superhero or comics fan. While some of the more entrenched members of fandom – those who have 'picked a side' in terms of their favorite universe – are characterizing this nomination as some sign of publisher-based biases on the part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or as some kind of one-sided victory, they are grossly mistaken.

Make no mistake: Black Panther’s Best Picture nomination is a milestone of a victory for the entire superhero world.


Superheroes and Critical Categories in the Past

The Dark Knight

In 2009, the worlds of superhero fandom and cinematic industry observers and commentators were uniquely aligned in viewing the failure of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to secure a Best Picture nomination as signs of an Academy that looked down on the abilities of stories descended from comics to be truly legitimate entries into the American cinematic canon. In The Dark Knight’s place was The Reader, a film that in spite of a well-received performance from lead Kate Winslet failed to make much of an impression with the critics of the time.

The Dark Knight, on the other hand, was nearly-universally acclaimed by general audiences and professional critics, using the enduring pop culture relevance of the Batman character to tell a thought-provoking, often unsettling, and biting crime drama that happened to feature a set of extreme personalities at the center of the narrative: those of Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and the Joker.

At the 2009 Oscars, The Reader took home one award (Best Actress for Kate Winslet) from five nominations, while The Dark Knight took two awards from its eight nominations. The more notable win on the part of the Batman film was Heath Ledger as Best Supporting Actor for his definitive performance as the Joker, the first time that a superhero film was recognized in a performance category at the prestigious awards show.


The Changing Times

Black Panther

In the decade that’s passed between The Dark Knight and Black Panther, some aspects of the nominating process have changed, particularly concerning the amount of permitted nominees in the Best Picture slot.

Now, the maximum allowed number of contenders is 10, where a decade ago it was only five. While the Academy briefly flirted with the idea of creating a new category for 'popular' films, the deliberation on such a topic backfired: it further emphasized to many that the Academy continues to view films that do higher levels of business as less legitimate than traditional 'Oscar bait,' and the idea was quickly scrapped.

So, with all of that said, does Black Panther’s nomination telegraph a possible sea change in terms of signaling the Academy’s full embrace of superhero films as legitimate contenders for these more critical award categories in the future? While it’s hard to say for certain, it’s a little doubtful.


What This Means


The majority of superhero films will likely remain on the periphery of such categories, but hopefully this could mean that the truly exceptional examples of the genre – like The Dark Knight, Logan, or Black Panther – will be considered in the future.

No matter how you slice it, though, this nomination is a watershed moment for comics-based cinema. When it comes to talking about movies, that’s about as close as you can get to speaking an objective, irrefutable fact. Let’s not minimize this nomination, nor talk down to it.

This is huge. Hopefully, it’ll mean great things as the genre barrels forward toward the future.

Categories: Features, Geek, Awards
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