The Oscars' Unlikely Hero

Niamh Brook - Writer

It’s a tale as old as time, as we reach late december the art house, oscarbate films are released. Usually a moody drama or a bio pic, these films are key contenders to win the coveted best picture award. However, times are changing. Last year we saw visionary director Guillermo del Toro win for his tribute to film and monsters complete with an overt political message,The Shape of Water, an unlikely win from an academy known to give the least controversial films that prized golden statue. However, with past controversies such as #oscarswhysowhite, a movement that was formed after the shocking lack of black actors and creators nominated resulting in the academy now taking measures to assure they are inclusive. This factor leads me to my main point. This year, a new contender has been nominated for best picture, a film that was received in high regards from both critics and audiences alike: Black Panther. Now, this film does not mirror it’s peers, as I am sure you are aware, Black Panther tells the story of T’challa, a newly appointed king of an african nation learning to come to terms with his position after the tragic death of his father. However, this is not the only part of the story, T’challa is also a superhero, the Black Panther. Black Panther is one of Marvel’s most successful films to date earning $1,346,913,161 to date in the worldwide box office.  This superhero blockbuster alongside the conventional oscar nominees, makes Black Panther a complete dark horse.

 But what makes Black Panther an oscar nominee. How has this marvel film broken the mould that the oscars has fit into for years? To start with, the film’s plot and underlying message was a groundbreaking shift from the somewhat action driven plots that Marvel fans had become numb too. As a Marvel fan myself, I am not neglecting Black Panther’s predecessors, however Black Panther’s plot that tackles power relations, morals and unity in addition to the hero learning and having compassion towards the films captivating villain Killmonger. The plot had fans leaving screens having not only seen a fun superhero film, but also left with ideas and powerful messages in their minds. Additionally, the film is visually beautiful, the costumes are exquisite, with so much attention to detail in order to reflect the diverse range of African cultures. The cinematography is also stunning, with even more detail paid to make every shot look masterful (if you ignore the questionable CGI in the final fight scene). Director Ryan Coogler managed to achieve new heights with this film allowing for a character and plot driven action film, something that is somewhat unheard of in the superhero genre.

Interestingly, comparing Black Panther to the Marvel juggernaut Civil War the differences between the two styles are apparent from the start. Civil War is the film in which Marvel fans were first introduced to the character and the more action driven plot focused more on the ways in which the newly anointed king could fight instead of focusing on the grief the character was feeling as a result of the death of his father. Civil War was a very action driven film, at some points it can also be argued that shots were specifically formed to craft ‘good trailer content’. The film was criticized by both fans of the franchise and the press for having a boring villain with one of the most convoluted plans in cinematic history. The film was focused more on the treatment of both Iron Man and Captain America characters and their journey and sadly left other characters and plot to drift into the background. Now, do not get me wrong, Civil War is a great superhero movie however Black Panther matches the same beats as Civil War but goes above and beyond in its focus on characters and story thus it’s inclusion as a best picture nominee.

This moves me on to pose a question. How has a film like Black Panther ended up alongside the conventional oscar nominated films this year?Is it due to the sheer beauty of the world building and storytelling within the film? Has the academy accepted modernity, and finally agreed that the ‘blockbuster’ is  now worth a cinephiles attention? Or is there another factor in play? As previously mentioned, since the scandal regarding the lack representation of ethnic minorities, is this simply a ‘play it safe card’ laid down by the academy in order to cover their backs? Personally, I do not believe this is the case. If this were true, then the inclusion of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, would have done the trick. I do not believe the inclusion of Black Panther within the nominees for best picture is lazy inclusivity but a step into a new direction for the academy. The film is nominated for 7 oscars, including others such as best costume design and best production design. Additionally, some might argue that the inclusion of this beloved film is a ploy by the Academy to form a resurgence in ratings and help to raise interest from the general public. In my personal opinion, since the mishap in 2017 regarding the La La Land / Moonlight mix up, the Academy lost the sense of grandeur it revelled in. This could be a careful tactic in order to regain both the views and respect from the more mass culture fans. However,  I believe this is the Academy finally accepting a new era of cinema, where huge franchise films, in some circumstances, can actually have artistic merit, a story and well rounded characters (this film even passes the bechdel test!). It is a huge step forward regarding the mass and high culture argument. A mass culture film blending mass and high culture techniques, allowing for a poignant message to be displayed to the masses.

Whilst I don’t believe this film will win the coveted best picture title, thinking that shall be awarded to the somewhat conventional The Favourite. I say ‘somewhat’ as the film does tackle lesbianism, something the heteronormative academy is probably not used to. However, the inclusion of the blockbuster is a major step forward in the blending if high and mass culture and leads to the idea that in the near future, the two shall not be so jarringly separate.

Photo Credit - Connor Baker -


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