'Black Panther' for Oscars 2019: High time a hero from Wakanda lands Marvel its Academy Award
Disney studios is actively rooting for the Ryan Coogler-directed 'Black Panther' - and truth is, there's a strong case for this comic book adaptation from Marvel.
Oscars are proof that the superhero curse exists, but can 'Black Panther' break the chain? Even before the awards season had come to a close last year, the chatter had begun - Wakanda forever - projecting Marvel Studio's first hit of 2018 as a strong contender for the next Academy Awards.
In fact, the buzz was that the push was coming from Disney themselves, with the studios actively rooting for the Ryan Coogler-directed movie, which had not only managed to woo the legions of superhero movie fans but also the critics alike. Indeed, 'Black Panther's success - starring Chadwick Boseman in the titular role, alongside stars like Lupita Nyong'o and Michael B. Jordan - has brought a pleasant wave of change in the Oscar conversation.
Change that could possibly make the Academy Awards, a coveted honor religiously bestowed upon the best of cinematic talents every year since 1929, more inclusive in the year to come. So that, each year instead of celebrating the usual Oscar baits - the set of period films starring seasoned actors and all of the showbiz bravado - the academy could open its doors (Hollywood's Dolby Theatre's to be precise) to a diverse range of films, minus any bias - superhero or blockbuster.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's a better half of the year left until the 91st edition of Oscars gets underway, where a film like 'Black Panther' may or may not get recognized depending on the mood of the industry, the trend of current affairs and even the socio-political climate, which more often than not has proven to impact the choice at the awards shows. The truth is there's a strong case for this comic book adaptation from Marvel.
With its narrative, like the 17 MCU movies that came before it, heavily borrowed from the vast comic book literature, 'Black Panther' on the surface is a story about a fictional African country - Wakanda. In a nutshell, despite a titular king and mother queen (who exert real powers unlike the monarchial heads of the real world), Wakanda functions on the principles of democracy. And their political ideologies comes second only to their technological prowess. Wakanda might be the home to vast reserves of a super-precious metal, called Vibranium, but it all boils down to their refined administration, heightened standard of living, and grand scale research and development to ensure the Vibranium is used for the good of mankind.
This is just the premise of 'Black Panther,' replete with real-life issues, threats, and challenges. But within the layers of the overlapping, inter-connected narrative, Marvel creatives achieve what superhero movie makers have been trying to do for over decades now - relevance.
Superhero movies are things made of fantasy. They portray men possessing incredible power, unrealistic moral compasses, and occasionally a dark and broody world where a clown turns antagonistic. However, the current bent of events call for time-relevant and realistic stories, something that comic book adaptations merely touch upon but are yet to explore, except for 'Black Panther.'
When was the last time an all-black lead cast (well, minus Martin Freeman) appealed to the masses on this level, regardless of their color, but just based on the shared love for the comics? A Forbes report's projection, in fact, hailed 'Black Panther' for being the 5th-biggest opening weekend of all time, amassing $202 million at the time. The box-office round-up report also credited the 18th Marvel Studios' production for being the "biggest opening weekend ever for any movie not directed by a white guy."
And that's just the business of the numbers for 'Black Panther,' which is nothing new for any Marvel-Walt Disney release. What came as a surprise (or not) was the rave reviews the film garnered from the critics - a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 88 on Metacritic - taking even the stringent movie reviewers by a pleasant surprise.
Rolling Stone called Coogler’s 'Black Panther,' “an epic that doesn't walk, talk or kick ass like any other Marvel movie." As Empire argued in favor of the movie, calling it more than a mere milestone: "[O]ne of 'Black Panther’s greatest triumphs is to make you forget the barrier-breaking significance of its mere existence." While The New York Times went on to rave about Coogler's skills, writing, "There are sequences in Black Panther that may make you cry because of where they go and what they say, but also because of the sensitivity he brings to them. He makes some savvy story choices too."
If the story-telling technique, characterization, writing, direction, and even acting are the meters for choosing an Oscar win, 'Black Panther' impresses and how. The film is already making splashes with its winning streak during the recent awards shows. MTV Movie & TV Awards bestowed the cast with at least four popcorn-trophies, with Boseman personally picking two and Jordan one, in the best villain category. While the recently-held BET Awards made it a night for the Wakandans by conferring the title of Best Movie on 'Black Panther.'
As we move into the latter half of the year (and early next year), these shows ultimately make way for the most prestigious ceremony in Hollywood, the 2019 Oscars. Indeed, all eyes will be on 'Black Panther,' and if anything, the blockbuster ought to gain recognition for the technical talents who worked behind the scenes in the project.
Whether it is Rachel Morrison whose work in Mudbound made her the first female cinematographer with an Academy Award nomination (and now a strong contender for 'Black Panther') or the Marvel blockbuster's costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, who with her great precision with cultural details and attention to finer aspects of the African tribes brought to life a vivid, bright, and colorful fashion for the Wakandans - it's hard to see why 'Black Panther' shouldn't land multiple recognitions for technical merit.
But the real deal would be grabbing the spotlight in the artistic category. The force is with 'Black Panther' and the film's various creatives, from director Coogler (whose work on 'Creed' and 'Fruitvale Station' is no stranger to love from critics) to the movie's breakout stars especially Danai Gurira, the fierce and complicated Okoye. It wouldn't even be too much of a stretch to hope for a 'best supporting' actor recognition for Jordan as well, who has without a doubt, brought one of the most complex villains (Killmonger) to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And what would become of the layered, evoking the story of 'Black Panther' without its chart-topping anthem, 'All the Stars', by Kendrick Lamar and SZA - a spot in the best original score eh?
In the run to Oscars, comic book movies are sure taking steady but small steps, trying to find a place in the good books of the critics - in 2018 Hugh Jackman's last outing as 'Logan' - took home a nomination for best-adapted screenplay, although 'Wonder Woman,' a cultural phenomenon in its own rights, got totally snubbed. But its high-time leaps are made and quality movie-making is appreciated. Not just gravitas and brouhaha that make up for the usual Oscar noise.