Why Black Panther is Worthy of a Best Picture Nomination
The best picture nomination for Black Panther has elicited strong emotion from both sides of the crowd: those who are immensely appeased by the announcement, and those who believe Black Panther is undeserving of the prestige of such a nomination. To believe Black Panther is diluting the prestige of the biggest award category of the biggest annual awards show, movie or otherwise, that would imply there was prestige in the first place. But a best picture nomination has never been a prestigious, esoteric thing that only the finest movies with the greatest mastery of filmmaking are able to accomplish.
In 2004, the movie Crash, a movie most would consider an "Explain Like I'm 5" version of racial harmony, was nominated for and won Best Picture. In 2012, the 46% scoring Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nominated for best picture. Black Panther isn't taking away the prestige from the best picture category, because the award has never had unattainable prestige to begin with. So even if you believe Black Panther is nothing more than your average superhero movie and isn't deserving of critical acclaim, you'd be hard pressed to make a compelling argument for why Black Panther is breaking a precedent that never existed in the first place.
Which brings me to my next point, the focal point of this entire argument, which is people arguing that Black Panther's nomination is entirely politically motivated. First off, I do believe Black Panther's best picture nomination is entirely political, and I think you'd need to be blocking your ears and kicking and screaming to deny it. That said, that has nothing to do with my personal opinion. I think Black Panther is not only a great movie, but one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. I loved how the movie managed to be both entertaining, while also delivering on a compelling idealogical conflict that explores real-world themes: that's a tough balance to find, but director Ryan Coogler pulled it off exceptionally well. However, it's painfully obvious that this has nothing to do with why The Academy nominated it. How do I know that? Well, just look at the nominations.
How is it that Black Panther is nominated for the biggest award show of the entire night, yet doesn't have a single nomination in any other one of the major categories. It isn't nominated for best director. It isn't nominated for best actress. It isn't nominated for best actor. It isn't nominated for best supporting actor or actress. It isn't nominated for any screenplay awards. These are the aspects and categories that come together to determine the quality of a movie, yet Black Panther - a best picture nominee - isn't nominated in any of them. The Academy might as well be holding a sign that says "we're nominating Black Panther because of it's cultural impact." I don't think anyone is trying to deny that Black Panther's nomination wasn't politically motivated, but there are people arguing that there is something wrong with the Academy for nominating something for political reasons. This is where I disagree.
One of the first things I learnt in art class is that there are 4 "frames" to assess and critique art. The subjective frame, which is concerned with the psychological, emotional aspects of art. The 2nd is the structural frame, which in the case of cinema, would be concerned with the technology and filmmaking perspectives used, the signs and symbols utilised in the film, and what they reflect. The 3rd, the postmodern frame, is concerned with how the artwork challenges mainstream ideas. And the 4th is the cultural frame, which is concerned with the social and cultural impact of the artwork and how the art represents a particular social and cultural group.
Art historians and critics have always taken cultural and political impact into account. One of the reasons Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of the greatest, most celebrated artworks in human history, was so groundbreaking, is because of how secular it was at a time where most artworks during the renaissance were religious. Most artworks during the Renaissance had heavy religious imagery and meaning, whereas the Mona Lisa is thought of as a portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci's wife: Lisa Gherardini. The creation of art and the significance of artworks have always taken into account cultural significance, and I don't know why people all of a sudden expect that to stop. Art doesn't exist in a vacuum. Art is a product of it's time. Art has cultural significance. Art challenges predetermined notions.
Am I glad Black Panther is nominated for best picture? Yes. Why? Because the Academy Awards have a long history of electing best picture nomination for reasons other than sheer quality. Yet, superhero movies have been an exception, on the sole merit of being "just superhero movies." These are the same people that say "this movie wasn't just a great superhero movie, it was a great movie. Period." Most of us can agree The Dark Knight was snubbed of a best picture nomination on the sole merit of being a superhero movie. The best picture nomination for Black Panther isn't only significant in terms of representation, but also notable in terms of superhero movies taking one step forward in terms of being recognised as a genuine artform, and not an inherently inferior genre.
It feels long overdue, but better late than never.