OPINION – Spider-Verse, Black Panther and the Oscars Shenanigans
The Oscars are very stick-up-their-ass traditional. They are very white-centric. Foreign films are their own category. Anything that isn’t standard Hollywood fare is often relegated to the lesser categories. Hell, common vernacular classifies certain types of movies as ‘Oscar bait’ – and we all know exactly what those types of movies are. I hate to say that Green Book, the film that beat out Black Panther for Best Picture, is definitely that kind of Oscar-bait film.
Superhero films, sci-fi films and anything that isn’t *quite* mainstream cinema (although really, what is more mainstream cinema than a sci-fi superhero film?) are never given the same Oscar run like any other film. The last thing that was a major Oscar sweep that even came close to what we could have had with Black Panther being nominated was Lord of the Rings. And you can bet that had Black Panther looked more like those films if you know what I mean then we’d be seeing it as a Best Picture winner.
The Fight for Nomination
The internet and the people in charge of the Oscars had to fight – literally, fight – to get Black Panther on the Best Picture Ballot. The Academy didn’t even want this picture to be nominated. They made up a new category just to try and appease the fans calling for the nomination. They wanted to make it ‘most popular picture’ or something. But the fans won. It was put on the ballot for Best Picture. We thought that we had collectively done something that was historic. A superhero film nominated for Best Picture! Who’d have thunk it? And then we all got hyped to see it win…
…And were summarily let down when it didn’t.
I can’t say that I’m surprised.
But wait! There was another superhero movie that just won a major Oscar, wasn’t there?
Animated Superheroes Might just be the Next Best Thing
Into the Spider-Verse just won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. This is a big deal. This is a non-Disney, non-Pixar, computer-animated feature film starring a mixed race POC hero, that just won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
That is not a sentence that I thought I would be writing with such incredulity in 2019. But contrasting it to the snub that Black Panther just got, and how hard it was to even get the film on the ballot, again, I shouldn’t be surprised.
However! There is a silver lining to these shenanigans.
Into the Spider-Verse just won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. I am going to repeat that as many times I need to in order to remember that not everything is terrible.
The fact that the representation, the importance of Miles Morales, and the idea that these characters can win an Academy Award is a step forward into fully accepting a POC led superhero film as the Best Picture overall. The fact that this animated feature has transcended the expectations that animation ‘is for kids’ (SPOILER: it’s not.) and has made such a cultural splash that it went on to be nominated and win for Best Animated Picture in a category so often dominated by Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar, opens the door for more of the same. In a perfect world, this would hold open the door for superhero films to be taken as more than flash in the pan movies that won’t mean anything to anyone and aren’t ‘real cinema’ and to make waves for the next round of POC led films to win Best Picture across the board.
Lamentations of the Oscar-Worthy
So while we can lament that Black Panther was denied the Best Picture award in an industry party that often overlooks and snubs things like that, let us celebrate that Miles Morales led a movie to win a Best (Animated) Feature award at the whitest, most culturally insensitive awards show on the planet.
And let’s celebrate that this shows the bosses who fund the movies that yeah, there’s a market for cartoons, there’s a lot you can do with animation, it’s not shallow or ‘for kids’ and it’s definitely something that we want more of. More diversity. More creativity. We will show up. We will support these features. And damn it, we will celebrate the wins when we are given equal space at the table.