Amid all the usual hubbub and consternation over this morning’s announcement of the full slate of nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, there’s one Best Picture nomination in particular that is worth noting for its populist ramifications: Black Panther. In doing so, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film made history, becoming the first genuine “superhero movie” to score a Best Picture nomination—something that had eluded critically lauded films such as The Dark Knight or Wonder Woman.
In total, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther was nominated in seven categories, including prominent nominations for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. It’s been an award season full of nominations for the film, including recognition at the Critics Choice Awards, SAG, BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, where it was also the first superhero film to be nominated for “Best Drama.” Only at the Critics Choice Awards did the film bring home hardware, though, earning awards for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects. It was also named one of AFI’s “Movies of the Year.”
A Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, though, is something else entirely, representing a new level of normalization and acceptance of populist, blockbuster superhero movies by the Academy, which could set an important precedent—at least until they introduce that “Popular Film” category, if those plans are still on the table. Regardless, the choice to nominate Black Panther will be critiqued intensely. Did it really deserve the place of say, If Beale Street Could Talk, or First Reformed? Should Avengers: Infinity War have taken its place, if the Academy wanted a Marvel movie front and center? Expect to see plenty of discussion of these topics in the days to follow.
One thing is certain, though: The Chadwick Boseman-led Black Panther has now blazed a trail that all superhero films will aspire to follow. Previously, the most visible Academy nominations in the superhero genre were James Mangold and Michael Green’s nom for Best Adapted Screenplay for Logan at last year’s Oscars, and Heath Ledger’s posthumous win for Best Supporting Actor in 2009 for The Dark Knight. But even with all the goodwill toward Ledger and the film after his passing, The Dark Knight couldn’t score a Best Picture nomination. Neither could Wonder Woman at last year’s awards. As a result, although many expected a nomination for Black Panther, the results were hardly set in stone. Making $1.3 billion in worldwide ticket receipts is no guarantee.
The 91st Academy Awards will air on ABC, Sunday, Feb. 24, beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. As we’ve reported, this year’s hostless ceremony will be held to a strict, three-hour time limit.