Representation, heart, phenomenon: Black Panther should win Best Picture at the Oscars


Black Panther recently received a historic Oscar nomination for Best Picture, an honor it wholly deserves to win. From to its important work bringing diversity to screens to its incredible storytelling to its dynamic and beloved characters, Black Panther is the best movie of the year.

Recently, Black Panther was announced as a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, marking the first time a superhero movie has been nominated for this prestigious honor. Hot on the heels of this nomination, a slew of reactions broke, from jubilance to dubiousness…

But as they say, haters gonna hate.

Although there is no strict definition of what “Best Picture” should mean, the dictionary definition of the “best” is “that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable; that which goes to the highest degree.”

Here are just a few reasons why Black Panther, a picture, is in no uncertain terms, the best.

Representation Matters: A Showcasing of Black Excellence

Black Panther is more than just a movie. Its influence goes beyond the theater seats, dances off the screen, and extends to millions of people across the world. As diverse as audiences are, movies have been slow to reflect the multitudes of people viewing them, for years falling prey to narrow societal dictations and stereotypes. But Black Panther takes this truth and upends it.

Showcasing a brilliant, beautiful, and hugely talented cast that is almost entirely black, Black Panther offers those who have rarely gotten to see themselves on screen as heroes and have not been given the platform on which to dream the opportunity that so many others have had for so long.

Representation matters. It counts. It changes lives, it brings unparalleled joy to children’s faces and invites inspiration and change to occur in reality. It touches the world. 

Is that not a cogent example of a movie that reaches “to the highest degree”?

A Marvel of Cinematography, Design, and Storytelling

Black Panther is a movie with equal parts style and substance, and those parts are both equally abundant.

As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther was tasked with both perpetuating a world already created and building something all its own. Writer and director Ryan Coogler managed to pen a script that is exquisite, delicately handling scenes of emotional weight, light-hearted laughter, action-filled battle sequences, and quiet moments of connection that are deftly woven together into a compelling narrative, heavy with the sensation of history, culture, and significance.

Helping to bring the vision to life, Hannah Beachler, the first ever African American nominee for Production Design at the Oscars, lent her hand. Beachler described her design as “a love letter to Africa,” combining Wakanda as imagined in the comics with designs inspired by countries from Sub-Saharan Africa. Each Wakandan Tribe was crafted to the very last detail, reflecting unique identities and adding to the feeling of a greater world.

Words and sets come together to shine in the actual filming of the movie, which may be one of the most beautiful Marvel movies to have ever been shot. The lushness of Wakanda is inviting and rich, jewel tones and bright colors, reality juxtaposed with dreams, as much of the movie is. The opening of the movie sets the tone with Wakanda’s myth of creation, drawing the audience in with dancing sand and the intense feeling of universe and continues on shifting back and forth from the, already extravagant, norms of Marvel superhero movies to the sacred space of faith, visions, and powers that are rooted in ancestry and heart.

This is not even to mention the way the soundtrack of the film elevates every scene or the immense amount of VFX work that went into making this movie everything that it is.

To excel at just one of these categories would mean victory in a more specified Oscars category, but to exceed expectations in them all points in only one direction.

Representation Matters: An Array of Incredible Women

The women of Black Panther are second to none.

Not once does this movie slip up and fall to the plethora of ways in which fiction can undermine women. The heroines are strong, they are loving, they are fierce, they are smart, and in every way, they have agency.

Okoye: Okoye is the head of the King’s guard, she is powerfully loyal and stands on her values and convictions above everything. Though she can be flawed, blind in her ways, this makes her all the more compelling. She avoids the trap of having her emotions undermine her beliefs and puts her love of her country before her personal love, which is often reversed for female characters.

Shuri: Beyond the fact that Shuri is a genius, rare, and a young woman enmeshed in science, rare, and a young woman of color who is a genius enmeshed in science, very, very, rare, it is Shuri’s unapologetic nature which stands out as the most beautiful part of her character. Shuri knows she is smart and she is not afraid to let anyone, or specifically, any man, be it her brother or a stranger, know it. Young women should be taught to glory in their gifts, to take pride and joy in the ways they are brilliant, and Shuri embodies this lesson like no other.

Nakia: Though Nakia is T’Challa’s ultimate love interest, it is her convictions, the way she influences him, and not sex appeal, or victimhood, or any other trope which drives her story arc. Though Nakia does comfort T’Challa, though she kisses him, she drives him to be better, to broaden his mind, she chides him for trying to save her. Their relationship is crucial, but does not define either one of their roles in the movie.

“The most excellent” portrayal of women in recent history, to be sure.

A Cultural Phenomenon.

One would be hard-pressed to find a film lover who has not seen Black Panther, even among those who do not normally like superhero movies.

A cross of the arms across one’s chest is now a universal symbol, toy stores, clothing stores, and jewelry stores are flooded with merchandise, “Wakanda Forever” can be heard echoed across every kind of medium; in short, Black Panther lives in the threads of current cultural awareness. Although quantity is no guarantee of quality, and brilliant movies get overlooked all of the time, it takes a special kind of movie to drive such a monumental shift in culture.

As Lupita Nyong’o told CNN:

"“We do know that those kinds of things shape one’s subconscious values, and so now there will be dark-skinned dolls that kids from everywhere can play with…I played with white dolls all the time. I think that to have dark-skinned dolls in the hands of other races is just as important as having it in the hands of black kids themselves.”"

This is a movie that shapes a moment in time, changes elements of the conscious and the subconscious. It is a movie that is definitional.

A Good Man with a Good Heart

And, of course, finally, the center of the universe, the soul of the movie, the Black Panther himself, King T’Challa, who is best described in the words of his father, uttered to him as he stands uncertain, wishing to be the best king that he can be, tears in his eyes, “a good man, with a good heart.”

T’Challa is, in fact, the best man, at the very least, one of the best portrayals of heroism and masculinity that has graced movie screens, maybe ever.

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Of all the heroes in his first Marvel appearance, Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa is the only one who is able to grow from the turmoil of its events. T’Challa begins angry, grieving, and vengeful, but when confronted with the flaws of his understandings, he does not shy away. Instead, he accepts them and evolves, growsing to be better while everyone else tears themselves to shreds. He refuses to let vengeance consume him, and evenly offers justice to the killer of his father and compassion and sanctuary to those in need, whom he wronged.

It is this T’Challa which lives in Black Panther , and his goodness only grows. Throughout the movie, he allows himself to admit his emotions, his flaws, shortcomings, and the places where he might need assistance. He humors his little sister when she pranks him and never talks down to her, his romantic interest, or any of the women in his life. T’Challa allows himself to be changed throughout the course of the movie, seeks to let the certainties of his life be rattled for the good of himself and his people.

Though morality does not equate to compellingness, in this, the day and age that Black Panther is nominated for its Oscar, the Academy, and the world, could use a good King and a good man walking away with the most prestigious prize it has to offer.

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Whatever comes of the Oscars, Black Panther is a movie deserving of every prize.

Wakanda Forever.