Marvel's Black Panther Is Getting Oscar Buzz but Is it just Politics?

Ryan Coogler, right, director/co-writer of "Black Panther," poses with his wife Zinzi Evans at the premiere of the film at The Dolby Theatre on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Ryan Coogler, right, director/co-writer of “Black Panther,” poses with his wife Zinzi Evans at the premiere of the film at The Dolby Theatre on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Like most of Marvel Studios’ films, Black Pather is shaping up to be a blockbuster. The L.A. Times columnist covering the awards beat is even talking about it possibly being the first Marvel feature to win an Oscar. After the controversies about race that have concumed a lot of the coverage of the Academy Awards in recent years, it’s hard not to see the Oscar buzz for Black Panther—or even the award itself should it win one—as tainted by politics.

After a few years of being called racist, suddenly the first superhero movie with a black lead is getting Oscar mentions? It wouldn’t seem political if the Academy were in the habit of giving out awards to comic book movies, some of which have been darn good movies with great characters and stories painted with groundbreaking special effects. But maybe despite being  a popcorn muncher aimed at a broad audience, Panther is hitting the right political notes.

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” the first stand-alone film of the modern Marvel era to be led by a black superhero, premiered this week to ecstatic social media gushing — not an unusual response for this kind of film.

Only, this time, the outpouring of love is warranted. Coogler and his team — including the newly minted, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison — have created a visually stunning movie, full of action and ideas (the responsibility of wealthy nations to the rest of the world, for one) and boasting countless, instantly iconic performances from the likes of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett.

Obviously “ideas” are necessary for any good story, but I tend to get wary when someone tells me a movie is full of “ideas,” especially if we’re talking about a comic book superhero movie. At least I get wary when the ideas get top billing over character and story anyway. I don’t really want to see a superhero movie that lectures me about wealth and income inequality. I don’t expect to see that in Black Panther but maybe there’s enough of it suggested to make the social justice intelligentsia take notice.

Early ticket sales for “Black Panther” have broken records in advance of its Feb. 16 opening. And a year from now, it’s easy to see the movie’s visual effects teams and Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter earning favor with the academy. And look for plenty of people to advocate for best picture, too, as was the case with “Wonder Woman.”

Are ticket sales usually a big consideration when picking best picture? I don’t think so. Despite its success we saw what happened to Wonder Woman. RedState’s Brandon Morse recently covered the snubbing of the immortal Amazon by the Academy which was likely a result of politics.

Then there was the problem of Gal Gadot’s past. For many, the fact that a Jewish Israeli woman, who served in the Israeli military and supports Israel openly was too much. They lashed out at Gadot for any pro-Israeli posts she made. This caused conservative Americans to come to her aid, and further distance the left from Gadot who was clearly supported by what Hollywood considers the untouchables.

I’m not a Hollywood insider so I can’t claim to know the thought processes of those who decide which films are Oscar-worthy but all else being equal it seems like the films that give the right kind of attention to the left kind of causes tend to fare better.

I expect I’ll enjoy Black Panther immensely just as I enjoyed nearly all of the Marvel offerings (though I admit I’m suffering from a case of superhero fatigue). If it wins any Oscars, I will probably still wonder whether it was due to the films artistic merits, it’s politics, or the desire to save face in an industry under racial scrutiny.