Oscar season is upon us. In just a little over two weeks, the Hollywood megaliths will gather at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles to decide the best picture of the year at the 91st Academy Awards. One of the surprise nominations comes in the form of the Marvel Studios produced superhero film, Black Panther. The film is comprised of all the elements that we would expect in a Marvel film: fast paced action, good inevitably triumphing over evil, and a protagonist motivated by a sense of duty to save the world. But the film is more than just a comic book flick, it’s actually a metaphor for the historical regality in black culture and its progression over time. Clad with a villain mired in identity issues and supporting characters that make up the rest of the “panthers”, the film inspires feelings of camaraderie and a nostalgia for the actual civil rights Black Panthers group that most Americans have seen in their school history books.
The primary obstacle that Black Panther faces at the Oscars is that it is a child of the superhero genre, that’s it, the sole reason why Academy voters might not consider it a proper “film”. Of all the arguments against crowning a superhero film best picture, foremost is the repetitive nature of most of these films. Rarely is the plot fresh and the characters usually maintain the same goals and worldviews, but this isn’t the case for Black Panther. Bolstered by Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger, the film transcends “movies” and enters the realm of psychology. Who are we? Where are we truly from? Perhaps the most brilliant scene in the film focuses on Killmonger receiving a lecture on a headdress at a British museum. The headdress belongs to Killmonger’s native Wakandan people, however, the museum curator has wrongly attributed the origins of the headdress to another tribe in Benin. It’s an instant of pure cinematic gold, complete with subtle acting and inflection that Jordan drives home perfectly as he stares at the artifact through a glass encasing (Killmonger’s reflection is deliberately included in the shot). Cultural appropriation, artifact curation, and nationalistic pride, all brilliantly captured in a few mere seconds.
Will Black Panther win the big award at the Oscars? Probably not. But if there’s ever been a superhero film, in fact, if there’s any film that deserves to win the award this year, it’s Black Panther.