Black Panther and the Oscars – Pandering or a true contender?

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After watching Black Panther, I gave it a glowing review. I discussed the cultural significance of the film in the light of the lack of diversity that Hollywood & the film industry at large has often struggled with. Its rapturous embrace globally indicated how important this film was in this regard.

On top of that, it championed African culture in a media landscape that often depicts Africa as this dying, barely functioning continental cesspit. Wakanda, whilst a fictional country, highlighted the real beauty of Africa in its costume design, language and other aspects. It made for a film that resonated with many and the commercial success showed that great representation has financial value for films.

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As an instalment in the Marvel franchise, looking outside of its cultural significance, the film was a great addition as well. It had a compelling villain, which is something of an Achilles’ heel for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The costume design was incredible. How it weaved in real African design into the futuristic and high-tech fictional land that is Wakanda was incredibly well done. It was a stark change to the often Westernised films that we’re so used to in Marvel. The fighting scenes were also well done, with the powers of Wakanda’s forces along with Black Panther himself being well executed. The film was generous with its jaw-dropping action scenes.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that the film was often being brought up as a serious contender for the Oscars, especially after its nomination for Best Picture became a reality. Winning at the Screen Actors Guild Awards has only served to increase the hype around the film’s Oscar run. Despite the clamour and desire for its success, is Black Panther winning the Oscars a good thing?

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 Oscars So White

It wasn’t so long ago that #OscarsSoWhite was trending worldwide after the the list of nominees came out. It was one year too many that people of colour were left wondering where their accolades were. People had had enough and the backlash was swift and significant.

Celebrities also waded into the argument, calling on Hollywood’s suits to do better in not just recognising non-white talent at award shows but also when casting roles for various films. Numerous award shows had winners using their time on stage to champion the cause, with some celebrities boycotting events entirely.

Since the Oscars So White debacle, the prestigious award show has been sensitive to the issues and the film industry as a whole has had diversity brought to the fore. Black Panther showed that diversity can make money and win fans, so the argument surely became more palatable for industry executives.

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Moonlight winning an Oscar in 2017 was a milestone for the fight for diversity and considered a turning point in the industry. Naturally, the fight was seen as won, and the next big issue that had been bubbling for years was raised.

Wonder Woman

Black Panther is not the first time a super hero film was used as a tipping point on issues around diversity and representation. Wonder Woman led the way for championing the issues women faced in the industry with a woman being the director and a strong female lead.

Much like Black Panther, conversation grew to a crescendo around the film needing to win best picture, best director and a host of other accolades across various award shows. Wonder Woman was a great film in a franchise that has been starved of good storytelling but to think it deserved an Oscar is a stretch. Even the idea that its female lead was a strong one loses its legs when you recall that (SPOILER ALERT) the man ultimately saved the day, as per usual.

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When it came to Wonder Woman, people conflated cultural significance for quality. What Wonder Woman did for the conversation around representation for women specifically was huge and it should absolutely be praised for that but to think that was worthy of a Best Picture win is outrageous

Black Panther is a cop out

Black Panther was a fun film with much cultural significance but even amongst just Marvel films, it failed to break into the top ten based on quality. Much like Wonder Woman, it has an important place in film history and will be remembered for what it  did for representation, but to think it is Oscar-worthy takes things across the line.

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One can argue that nominations such as these actually hurt those championing diversity and representation within the film industry. It mocks truly worthy filmmakers, actors and actresses of colour and ultimately turns diversity in a pandering exercise as opposed to an progressive moment that benefits all. Black Panther’s nomination undermines everything the film has done and stood for in the industry, even more so if it ends of going over the finish line and outright winning it.

As much as any award show is always going to have subjective views on who deserves to win and who doesn’t, trying to shoehorn diversity for the sake of it is detrimental to everything that so many people have worked so hard for and championed. When Moonlight won, there was no questioning its brilliance and critical acclaim. Black Panther’s nomination feels like an award show with a declining audience grasping desperately for relevance and appeal amongst younger audiences. We deserve better. Black Panther deserves better.

Last Updated: February 15, 2019

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