The people who rose up to fight against the popular film Oscar used Black Panther as a leveraging tool. Accusations went from “Disney is just doing this to win an Oscar for Black Panther” to ‘How can you be doing this to Black Panther,” and even “The popular film category is racist because what it will do to Black Panther!”
The movie was thrown into the middle of the debate because it made $700 million, as the first all black written, directed and acted superhero franchise movie. It received great reviews. It has made a tremendous cultural impact. By all accounts it SHOULD be considered, without question, one of the best films of the year. That would be true if two things were also true: 1) If the Academy didn’t have a prejudice against genre and franchise movies (which they do) and 2) If they had more than five slots open to nominate Best Picture of the year (which they don’t).
After the Academy decided to scrap the Best Popular Picture category, it became immediately clear that movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Mission Impossible: Fallout were going to be washed away from the Oscar ceremony – but for the odd craft nom here or there. Pundits knew they had to do whatever they could to save Black Panther. If the Oscars don’t name Black Panther for Best Picture now, after all of this debate and public outcry about the new category, what will that mean? That the new system can’t possibly award genre films, even those as outstanding as Black Panther?
Perhaps we won’t ever find out because if people push hard enough for a movie, if they support it as much as they can — like all of the critics putting Michael B. Jordan in their supporting category (which they will do), or naming it Best Picture — sure to be on the Critics Choice and the Producers Guild list of nominees (they get ten slots) there is a chance Academy members will hold a spot in their top five, or even their number one, to honor the film.
Black Panther is right in the middle of the historic turning point of the film industry and Academy up to now, and what the future Academy might have to look like, considering the financial impact superhero and action sequels have on Hollywood’s bottom line. Despite the fact that Birdman was basically a rallying cry to resist — resist the franchise at all costs — which is what helped drive it to such a massive win, change seems to be coming whether they want it to or not.
The popular film category would have been an easy win for Ryan Coogler and the film. There would be no debate about it. By getting rid of the category they put him in a situation where their whole team will have to beg for any amount of recognition, recognition they clearly deserve. The decision by pundits to object so strenuously to the popular category will likely have cost Ryan Cooler an Oscar — that’s the bizarre part of this whole thing, but they’re hoping to make it up to him by pushing as hard as they can to get square peg Black Panther into the round hole the Oscars have become.
It isn’t only to make up for Ryan Coogler’s loss, it’s also to make the point that there is no need for the category at all. See, they will argue, the Academy really has changed. They can now nominate superhero franchise movies in their top categories. The need to widen the circle was stupid and pointless.
Well, okay then. If that’s so then perhaps they were right. The idea that there can be careful consideration of films that have made a cultural impact but could get nowhere near the Oscar race was something I thought I’d never see. Looking back over the last ten years I see films that were so good and were popular and yet were shut out. Films that weren’t even superhero movies but made $100 million all the same.
Most people can’t even remember which films were nominated for Best Picture, or even which films won. The choices have gotten so far off track from representing what actual moviegoers see, that the Academy has become a bit of a hot house. Good movies, even great movies are chosen but they exist in a pristine bubble and remain largely untouched by the general population.
The Academy is going on its 91st Oscar ceremony. That’s a long time to be at this. The disconnect between the public and the voting industry has never been wider than it is right now. The trick will be to find a way to bring them together. Maybe Black Panther will be it.
If Kyle Buchanan or Kris Tapley or Mark Harris can make Black Panther happen, they will have proven their argument that there was no need for the popular category. In championing the film they know they are standing on the right side. But it will come at the cost of other films vying for placement. And there are a lot of them. They should ask themselves what five movies they would jot down on their own ballots and which would be their number one choice. And if isn’t Black Panther you have to wonder…
If the Academy nominates Black Panther ddg or Best Picture they can stave off the popular film category, at least for a while. If they nominate Black Panther and the ratings continue to dip, then they can pretty much conclude that popular movies up for Oscars don’t necessarily improve the ratings.
So what do you think, folks?