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Black Panther’s Oscar Chances

Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of discussion as to how the Academy Awards (AKA the Oscars) would handle Black Panther, the wildly successful (both critically and financially) and socially impactful film from Marvel Studios. The Oscars have had trouble considering both popular genre films (see the change in the number of nominees in the Best Picture Category after both The Dark Knight and Wall-E missed out) and films that center their narrative around black people and other PoC (see the #OscarsSoWhite discussion that began with April Reign’s brilliantly succinct hashtag).

The Academy found itself in a bit of a bind when it announced that the 2019 ceremony (celebrating 2018 films) would include the new “Popular Film” Category that, depending on who you ask, was created to either guarantee an Oscar for Black Panther or to keep it out of the running for Best Picture. Though the new category was ultimately postponed, it was that news that got people talking about Black Panther‘s Oscar hopes. And then, Disney unveiled their list of awards they would like Academy voters to consider Black Panther for.

It’s important to note that this is not the first time that Disney has done this (and it’s quite a common practice in the industry). While their main site has removed the pages, they did a similar push for both Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though ultimately, they got one nomination between them (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for Best Visual Effects).

Of course, certain corners of the nerd kingdom have expressed disgust at the prospect of Black Panther being in the discussion for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. What was once a unified front of comic book enthusiasts clamoring for recognition for their beloved genre has now fractured on social media along all too familiar lines. “Overrated” is the code word of choice, which then makes discourse harder for people who actually felt Black Panther wasn’t as good as advertised.

But hey, in a medium as subjective as film, it’s fun to play the guessing game as to what will win awards and what won’t. So here are my predictions as to Black Panther‘s chances at bagging an Academy Award. For even more fun, I’ll provide completely made up odds based on little-to-no scientific reasoning.

 

Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing

The Sound Awards both typically see the same films nominated in each category, which adds to a bit of confusion as to what each award is for (you can read more on that here). This is one of the few categories that has typically nominated action and genre films without any problems (The Dark Knight won this award in 2009), and so I could see Black Panther getting nominated here, especially for the Warrior Falls sequences, in which you have running water, dialogue, and both armed and hand-to-hand combat.

As far as winning? I’d probably say that Mission Impossible: Fallout is the favorite here. Look out for Marvel’s own Avengers: Infinity War as well.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 13%

 

Best Visual Effects

This has, somewhat obviously, been a safe haven for genre films to get nominated. For a time, there were only three films allowed to be nominated in this category, but that was changed to five in 2011 (for 2010 films) and has been that way since. Because there are five spots and this hasn’t been quite as strong a year, I could see Black Panther getting nominated here. However, for my money, out of the Marvel Studios releases this year, Avengers: Infinity War had the higher quality effects.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 7%

 

Best Original Song

From a ratings perspective, the Academy would be stupid not to nominate Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars.” A nomination means a live performance by the artists, and who doesn’t want to see if Lamar can get complete another leg of an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony)? The Golden Globe nomination helps. But look for “Shallow” by A Star is Born to take this with ease.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 1%

 

Best Original Score

This is an award that I really hope Black Panther wins. Ludwig Göransson’s lush score has been on repeat in my home since it’s release. Between the brass and talking drum that make up T’Challa’s theme, the Fula flute and 808’s that make up Killmonger’s menacing threat, the use of vuvuzelas for the Jabari tribe, and the amazing “Ancestral Plane” leitmotif, this is a very sonically diverse score that brings in a lot of instruments that aren’t familiar to most Western ears that gives it an instantly recognizable sound. There’s a reason the Black Panther Theme was one of only two pre-existing songs Alan Silvestri chose to implement into the score of Avengers: Infinity War.

However, while I may personally love the score, its odds for getting nominated don’t look good, at least with looking at the way superhero films have been treated in the past. Though the Original Score category is no stranger to genre films, only one superhero film has ever had its score nominated before – John Williams’ genre-defining score for 1978’s Superman. It didn’t win. Danny Elfman was not nominated for his work on Batman or Spider-Man. Hans Zimmer was never nominated for his work on The Dark Knight trilogy. Neither Alan Silvestri nor Michael Giacchino were nominated for their respective work on The Avengers and The Incredibles. Despite a number of acclaimed composers working in the genre, superhero scores have an awful record at the Oscars. Will Göransson be the one to break through? Time will tell, and I’ll be playing the score on repeat through the wait.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 10%

 

Best Cinematography

Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for this category last year with her work on Mudbound. Her use of long takes make Black Panther a visual feast, however this is typically a highly competitive category, and unless Black Panther makes a run like Titanic or Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I don’t expect her work to be rewarded here. The favorites here will likely be Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 0.5%

 

Best Film Editing

Black Panther is one of the few genre films that if I try to watch a scene I just end up watching the whole movie (the other two that come to mind are 1993’s Jurassic Park and 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla). Admittedly, that’s because I’m a big Black Panther fan, but the pacing in Black Panther is rather brilliant. Each scene leads nicely into the next, and there’s very little downtime. The “big reveal” scene where T’Challa learns of his relationship to Killmonger is particularly well edited, and the match-cuts from T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani) to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) are powerful.

There is also a noteworthy trend in this award: since this award’s inception, only two films have won Best Picture without getting nominated here. The only exceptions: 1980’s Ordinary People and 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which in my opinion was snubbed in this category. If Black Panther wants to make a real run at Best Picture, it needs to at least get nominated here.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 5%

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Another award not averse to genre films, Best Makeup and Hairstyling has recently been friendly to superhero fare in recent years; 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was nominated and 2016’s Suicide Squad won the award. The variety of tattoos, hairstyles (Shuri alone makes a good case for this), and Killmonger’s extensive scarring should make Black Panther competitive in this category, though the limit of just three films for this category hurts every film’s chances.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 27%

Best Production Design

Hannah Beachler’s production design for Black Panther is some of the best I’ve seen in a superhero or fantasy film. The sets, from the throne room, to M’Baku’s hall, to the barely glimpsed office of T’Challa (which features a model of the city on a desk), even the casino in Korea breathes life. Details like the picture of Huey Newton in N’Jobu’s apartment really add to the characters and create a world. With five slots available, this should be an easy nomination.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 29%

Best Costume Design

The Academy should just send Ruth Carter her award now. Out of all the awards, this is the one that Black Panther most deserves to win. Carter has already been nominated twice for her work in Malcolm X and Amistad. With respect to the other hopeful nominees, there’s no reason to rob her here.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 52%

Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress

I’m lumping the acting awards together here as I’ll be frank: I don’t think the Academy will nominate anyone for this film. This isn’t to say the performances are bad (I think all the main actors gave exceptional performances), however these are obviously relentlessly competitive categories, and there’s little reason to believe that the Academy will recognize these performances over the myriad of others.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 0.000000000001%

Best Adapted Screenplay

Normally, I would consider this a no-go, but Logan got nominated last year, and Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole brilliantly adapted the often disparate Black Panther comics into a streamlined movie. Ask any Black Panther fan if they would have included M’Baku, better known as Man-Ape, in a major film adaptation. Nine out of ten would have said “no” and the tenth would have asked, “Are you crazy?!” Yet Coogler, Cole, and actor Winston Duke make that character not only work but work exceptionally well. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia calls him “Great Gorilla” and the script and the actors have done such a good job giving dignity to this character that no one batted an eye. That being said, if we’re talking odds here, I don’t like the film’s chances. Last year was considered a fairly weak year in this category, while this year has If Beale Street Could Talk and that another superbly adapted superhero film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 2%

Best Director

Ryan Coogler’s direction here is outstanding and his other two films, Fruitvale Station and Creed are both impeccably well-crafted. However, while I think Coogler will eventually win this award down the line, I don’t see him getting nominated for this film. For one, he’s seemingly been left out of the Best Director conversation at the other awards shows. Plus, Alfonso Cuarón is the clear favorite for Roma.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 0.0000000000000000000001%

Best Picture

Throughout this article, I’ve talked about my thoughts on the film’s merits in each category versus what I think the Academy will ultimately do. However, here, I want to talk business. It’s no secret that the Academy Awards have been slipping in ratings each year, in part due to the fact that pretty much everything is falling, but also in part due to a growing concern that the Academy has become increasingly elitist – nominating films that had limited theatrical runs whilst completely shutting out popular films from the most prestigious awards.

To counter this narrative, especially in the wake of shutting out The Dark Knight and WALL-E in the 2009 ceremony, the Academy changed the number of nominees from five to ten and then later changed it to anywhere between five and ten, meaning that one year there could be eight nominees, the next year six, and the following year five. I personally hate that rule. Five, six, ten, whatever. Just pick a number.

This flexibility makes sense on one hand: what if there aren’t ten films “worthy” of the nomination that year? I get it from an idealogical standpoint, but since this is all subjective, it seems silly to me. But what has always seemed idiotic from a business standpoint was the lack of nominating a highly popular film each year. If you only have six “worthy” films in a year, then that means you have four potential spots to fill. Why not take one movie that everyone saw and was critically well received and just throw it in there, at the very least for the ratings boost. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was by no means the best film of 2015, but it had already grossed $650 million dollars by the end of December (on its way to a whopping $936 million domestic total). You think any of those ticket buyers might have been more inclined to watch had it been nominated? Admittedly, that awards ceremony was the one that nominated Mad Max: Fury Road, which deservedly won six awards, so maybe the Academy thought that was their “gamble” that year. But it’s been crickets since.

From this perspective, the Academy would be foolish not to nominate Black Panther. It was wildly successful financially to the tune of $700 million dollars domestically, something even the extravaganza of Avengers: Infinity War couldn’t match (and for those wondering, I’m focused on the domestic grosses because the Academy Awards is largely a celebration of domestic films, hence the inclusion of a “Best Foreign Language Film” category). But it was also critically successful, and other awards ceremonies have already included it, notably the Producer’s Guild of America.

For those who don’t follow this stuff often, the Producer’s Guild of America Awards has become one of the best predictors for the Best Picture race at the Oscars. This makes sense, when you think about it, the Academy Award for Best Picture is an award for the producers of a film. It’s only right that the Producer’s Guild dictates that race. The PGAAs expanded their nomination slots from 5-10 in 2010 (for films in 2009). Since then, of the 91 films nominated (a tie occurred last year, bringing the number of nominees from 10 to 11), 70 went on to receive a Best Picture nomination. So the odds are in Black Panther’s favor.

However, things do get dicey when you look at what’s been left off the table. Wonder Woman, Star Trek, Ex Machina – these are some of the films that haven’t made it through. Even more notably were the awards for 2016, in which 9 of the 10 PGAA nominees went on to be nominated for Best Picture. Left behind? Deadpool.

That being said, I’m going to boldly predict that Black Panther will be the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture. As far as the winner, place those bets on Roma.

Odds of Black Panther winning: 10%

What do you think? Will Black Panther win any awards? Will it be completely shutout? What is your pick for Best Picture (mine is If Beale Street Could Talk). Do you have a five paragraph essay about how Black Panther was “overrated” that you need to get off your chest? Sound off in the comments below!

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