Every year around awards season there is always a big question of what films will be nominated for awards, which ones should be nominated and which one’s should not. This year has been no different as one film in particular has caused much of a stir around its nomination for Best Picture. This film of course is Marvel Studio’s Black Panther. Along with being nominated for a total of 7 Academy Awards the superhero flick is the first of its genre to be nominated for the Oscar’s top prize which is set to be handed out on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
Social media was sent ablaze once the nomination announcements were made on January 20, 2019 presented by Tracee Ellis Ross and Kumail Nanjiani. Many of course were extremely excited, the comic book hero film which broke box office records at the time of its release staying at number one at the box office for 13 weeks as well as reaching one billion dollars within a record amount of time. The story of T’challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), prince of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, now returns home to assume the mantle of king after his father T’chaka (played by John Kani) was murdered during the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’challa is faced with new challenges as king and ruling a kingdom while also having to save it from would be usurper, Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan).
Many felt as if the film, its story and acting were not worthy of the nomination of the MPAA’s top honor however there are many including this writer who believes it fully is and here are the many reasons in which it should have and these will hopefully shed some light and give a better understanding as to why this writer believes Black Panther is in the position it is.
For African Americans growing up there were not many if any superheroes that were at the forefront of comic books. Most were either a sidekick on ancillary characters. They were not the focal point. True there is Luke Cage but his relevancy and success is in part due to the success of its predecessor in Black Panther. After T’challa’s introduction in the comic book world in Fantastic Four #52 people were excited to learn more about this character and see his adventures going forward.
When superhero films began to become more mainstream the viewing audience was introduced to those we were familiar with from popular cartoons, Spiderman, X-Men and Blade (even though Blade was never marketed or advertised as a superhero film it was presented as an action horror movie, nonetheless major props and much love to Wesley Snipes for bringing the day walker to life in three films. Hopefully we can see the action star back in the role soon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). In X-men we were treated to Academy Award winner, Halle Berry in the role of the weather controlling mutant, Storm. But Berry’s Storm was just seemingly THERE. She did not have much dialogue nor was a focal point of the film. Spider-Man never gave us an African American hero (only until recently with Spider-man: Into the Spider Verse and Miles Morales)
It was not until 2014 when it was announced that the King of Wakanda would not only be getting his own film but would make his big screen debut in the aforementioned Captain America: Civil War. People who never thought they would see a black man who is not only a superhero but the ruler of his own nation in his own full feature length major blockbuster film. The cast was revealed and it was a who’s who of black Hollywood and garnered the interest of African Americans far and wide including those who were not comic book fans. Younger and older generations were excited to hear this was actually going to happen.
Civil War hit theaters and not only was people in awe of the film itself but to see the Black Panther in action and done WELL was a delight and a treat. Fast forward to the post credit scene that showed us a glimpse inside of Wakanda and it began to feel real.
The first trailer was received during game four of the NBA Finals in June of 2017 and it quickly shot to the number one trending topic not just of social media but the world. Of course this wasn’t met without some pushback. Hateful tweets, post and instant outcries of racism, yet the drive pushed forward to witness. When there are older generations of African American men and women who never planned on going to see a superhero film KNEW they had to see this for its cultural and historic significance.
February 16, 2018, Black Panther arrives in theaters after an overwhelming amount of positive reviews and praise. The film not only draws in an immensely large African-American demographic but other races and cultures and as not just one-time movie goers but multiple viewings sometime in the same day or week. This cross cultural reach carried over to various comic book conventions.
There has been a sea of little non-black boys and girls not just wanting to be the king of Wakanda but also the powerful Dora Milaje. To see these children embrace these characters as well as watching their parents who not only love the film itself for what it is but love of a mixture of cultures those of which they now themselves were interested in. A cultural phenomenon for a superhero film was never originally expected and yet now it is his and still traversing the global landscape.
Of course the box office is not normally factored into consideration when it comes to Oscar nominations. Many films to receive the honor have not been fully viewed by the mainstream public prior whether it may have been due to limited release or just were not strong draws at the box office. 2016 Academy Award winner Moonlight only generated twenty-seven million at the box office whereas The Hurt Locker only garnered $17 million at the box office. However when it comes to the spectacle that is Black Panther the film over $700 million domestically granted it was in way more theaters but one must take into consideration the buzz in which the film came in with. The movies final box office gross was over $1billion dollars and remained in the top 10 of box office total for over 13 weeks in a row.
Of course there was pushback, primarily from those who simply HATED what the film stood for, what it meant for past generations and those going forward. But the power packed ensemble not once slowed down. It even did something many people did not expect it to do and that’s still climb up the total box office gross charts even after the event that was Avengers: Infinity War arrived in theaters. There were still multiple repeat viewers who wanted to experience the movie again and again. Something about this has reached to people not just in their hearts but in their wallets as well.
An Incomparable Director
Granted there is already a category for this honor but the superhero’s director, Ryan Coogler was snubbed from the nomination list for his creative eye in bringing this character to life in his first major blockbuster. But Coogler is indeed undeniable when it comes to helming successful films. From Fruitvale Station on to Creed and now Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is a force to be reckoned with in the film industry.
Black Panther Director, Ryan Coogler with Chadwick Boseman
There are various runs of the king of Wakanda from the Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin on to Ta’Nahesi Coates and for Coogler to have creative wherewithal to know which parts from which respective runs that when best placed together will create a compelling story that would do the legendary character justice. This by no means is meant to take away from anyone else involved in the creative process but more of a focus on Cooglers’ eye through which the final project is seen.
To have the mind’s eye and the vision to bring the fictional nation of Wakanda to life is worth celebrating itself. From showing the advanced technological marvel that the nation is known for in the comics, while blending in the natural beauty and culture of Africa. Including younger and older generations from modern American looks to ritualistic African garb, the vision to see of that is in worth the recognition.
The vision of the director and producer are one thing when it comes to the film making process but it is not complete without the creative eye of an incredible cinematographer. That honor goes to Rachel Morrison. Nominated for Best cinematographer at the Academy Awards for her work on the Dee Rees’ film Mudbound, Rachel was able to help bring to life the vision that Ryan Coogler had through the lens of the camera. Epic camera shots such as the first warrior trials fight scene involving T’Challa vs. M’baku. The angles, the look the motion made the viewer fully engaged as if they were part of the tribes of Wakanda watching them up close. There is also, the showing the world of Wakanda being turned upside down after Killmonger takes the throne from T’Challa. Add to that the EPIC fight scene in the casino in Bussan and the car chase that followed words cannot express this combines to the reasoning of why Black Panther is worthy of the recognition and nomination it has received.
When it comes to the costume design of the Black Panther character itself, there is no question the suit that Chadwick Boseman wears is done perfectly active course and tweaks that were needed. But the real honor and praise should go to the now academy award nominee the costume designer, Ruth E. Carter. Ruth had the on daunting task of bringing a fictional African country to life. She had to give it its own culture and its own older flair and its own look. For example the Dora Milaje, these are the elite warriors of well-timed their costumes are special blend. “The different garments texture as well, the same striations and sacred geometry (as the Black Panther suit”. Ms. Carter said when speaking with the New York Times. Many of the garments were fashioned in the same tradition that you may have seen throughout Africa the Turkana, the Massai, the Turareg amongst others.
The looks in which you saw amongst the different tribes in Wakanda, the Border tribe, the river tribe, the mining tribe, the merchant tribe and the Jabari all had unique, beautiful distinct looks. The colors belonging to each respective tribe and the tribal patterns create an experience within itself.
In the first trailer one of the most prominent scenes was that of showing the entirety of the residents of Wakanda standing in the area of the waterfall for ritual and ceremony to crown T’Challa the King of Wakanda. Add to that subsequent scene in the film where you see each tribe broken down by group and to witness the colors, patterns and designs of each respective group is a testament to the creativity and artistry of Ruth E. Carter.
We can talk all day about the box office numbers, incredible directing, flawless cinematography and extraordinary costume designing. But none of that comes to life without the incomparable cast that tells the tale in this film. Chadwick Boseman in the titular role actually takes somewhat of a backseat in this film and allows shine to come from its other cast members. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger brings an ethically visceral performance. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a spy whose love for both her king and country drive her passion and that passion is felt throughout every scene she is in.
Danai Gurira whose commanding presence as the General of the Dora Milaje, Okoye just exudes, power, dominance and complete power and doesn’t back down. She will defend her king (whomever sits upon the throne) and her country even if it means over her love, W’kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) a character who was created for the film and serves as T’challa’s right hand man. The queen mother, Ramonda played by the flawless Angela Bassett. Angela is a woman with a presence in any role is that one of regality, elegance and cannot be ignored. To give the performance as T’challa’s mother gives the warmth and compassion in a story that involves internal as well as external drama. Andy Serkis reprising his role as Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron is seemingly having an entirely brand new level of fun this go round. Martin Freeman as Agent Ross, playing the government official who thought he knew one thing about Wakanda when find out that it is almost a world onto itself. Winston Duke and M’baku powerful and menacing leader of the mountain dwelling, Jabari tribe, he brings ruthless regality and humor in a role many did not know what to expect at first. But the very first time we see him on screen we are captivated and want more of the character. And last but certainly not least, Letitia Wright as the genius princess, Shuri. Shuri is the typical teenager taking jabs at her older brother and having to be corralled by her mother and at the same time she is responsible for the advancements in technology throughout Wakanda. Letitia brings the feeling of a current day teenager to the stage which is undeniably incredible. The cast of Black Panther are as much worth seeing as the film is itself.
The numerous reasons above and even others are a clear and definitive outline as to why Black Panther is absolutely worthy of its best picture nomination. The movie is a complete package and knows how to engage and entrance viewers young and old, men and women, across the spectrum of cultures and races. It is a rarity to have a film that is an experience for beginning to end even with its few flaws but will still keep you encompassed in the story. Very few movies released in the 1st quarter of the year will remain on the mouths of viewers, fans and those who arrived lately to the party towards the end of the year with heavy amounts of praise but Black Panther has become just that. Maybe all of the hype and praise is just that and it may not amount to the grand prize of the golden statute. However one thing will remain no what and that is it will forever be etched in history as not only a box office juggernaut, not just the major blockbuster superhero film with a predominately all black cast to stay in the top ten of the box office thirteen weeks in a row but still an ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE for BEST PICTURE.