When Black Panther opened to critical acclaim and box-office success in February, it was difficult to say whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be part of the Oscar conversation for 2019. But that's exactly what's happening now. The question is: Will the blockbuster be recognized for being great, or for being popular?
According to the Los Angeles Times, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige allocated a "significant" budget for awards season promotion -- a first for the studio -- and Disney has hired a veteran Oscar strategist to plot the campaign.
So-called "comic book movies" have never had the easiest time gaining recognition, although some progress was made when Heath Ledger received a posthumous Best Actor award for his performance as the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight, which garnered eight nominations. But the overwhelming success of Black Panther may have set it up to be the best hope yet of scoring a nod for Hollywood's top prize.
What may make that feat less attainable, however, is a newly announced "most popular film" Oscar category, geared toward commercial hits rather than (necessarily) critical successes. With the advent of this new category, Black Panther finds itself in a strange position, possibly seeing itself split between Best Picture and Most Popular, which could either send the movie home with two statues or empty-handed.
Feige underscored the idea that this film, given its acting pedigree -- three of the leads, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael B. Jordan, have been awards darlings in recent years -- and its respected director in Ryan Coogler, is as deserving of a Best Picture nomination as anything else released this year. Its cast appears to agree.
“The response to the movie, the energy, the level of thought in the reactions … that was intense, just on another level than anything I’ve ever experienced,” Jordan told the L.A. Times earlier this year. “Do I think it merits a best picture nomination? That’s not for me to say. But I’m OK listening to others saying it.”
Backlash against this new popularity award has been widespread, which may mean there will be some tinkering and fine-tuning ahead, in which case we may not yet see it presented when the next Oscars are handed out next year. Whether that is a blessing or a curse for Black Panther remains to be seen, but Feige is determined to keep an optimistic outlook, saying that a Best Picture nod would be "wonderful.”
“The people behind the camera, the people on screen that acted in the movie, any of them being recognized would bring us great joy because they did tremendous work. And it’s always nice when tremendous work is recognized.”
The nominations will be announced Jan. 22, 2019, for the 91st Academy Awards.