Why 'Black Panther' was the superhero movie that finally landed a best picture nod

In all, the film landed seven Oscar nominations.

February 21, 2019, 4:06 AM

"Black Panther" is the first of its kind to break through in the Oscars in the best picture category, where others before it came up short.

As the first black superhero standalone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its powerful themes inspired millions, gave representation to so many and became much more than just a film.

"The Dark Knight" was nominated for eight Oscars, one more than "Black Panther," but was unable to land a nod for best picture. The Batman classic still sits as a shining example of a superhero movie done right, winning the best supporting actor award that year for the late Heath Ledger, who played the Joker.

PHOTO: Heath Ledger, as Joker, in a scene from "The Dark Knight."
Heath Ledger, as Joker, in a scene from "The Dark Knight."

But until "Black Panther," we've never seen a film affect culture like it has and continues to do.

Here's a look at how "Black Panther" was able to land seven nods, including best picture, best score, sound editing and mixing, costume design and much more.

The women of 'Black Panther'

It's impossible to look at this game-changing film without first looking at how director Ryan Coogler was able to depict the powerful women within and outside the fictional country of Wakanda.

The "Black Panther" is also king of Wakanda, but protected by warrior Okoye, guided by his mother Ramonda and supported by his brilliant sister Shuri.

PHOTO: Danai Gurira in a scene from "Black Panther."
Danai Gurira in a scene from "Black Panther."

Danai Gurira stars as Okoye and is the second most imposing person in Wakanda behind the king. She leads the royal guardswomen (yes, you read that right) and truly believes in "Wakanda forever." Shuri is a tech genius who assists her brother in creating his suits and would shine later on as well in the following "Avengers" film.

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o portrays Nakia, the king's love interest, but much like Okoye and Shuri, she's no damsel in distress and while she supports the Panther, she'll also always say what's on her mind and is never silenced or controlled by anyone.

Freelance movie critic Candice Frederick, who has written for the New York Times, The Wrap and several other outlets, says it's just incredible to "see the women dominating and the ones who are actually protecting" Wakanda as the Royal Guard, as the princess and more.

"You never really see that," she added.

Wakanda Forever!

Looking at the creation of Wakanda, the most technically advanced and one of the richest countries in the world, Frederick says "Black Panther" is also "on par with what we are talking about politically today."

In the film, the African nation has remained in the shadows, hiding its rich supply of resources. It doesn't share them and doesn't help black people around the globe who have been marginalized or oppressed.

PHOTO: A scene from "Black Panther."
A scene from "Black Panther."
Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Enter Erik Killmonger, who tries to overthrow the king and share Wakanda's resources with his brothers and sisters around the world, in hopes that they can now become the most powerful race around.

But Frederick is also amazed at the layers within this story.

"I think there are conversations that haven't even been had yet about 'Black Panther,'" she added. "This idea of nature versus nurture. What it means to be African-American and conflicted on the African and the American part."

When she references nature-versus-nurture, there is the question of Killmonger, who grew up in poverty in America and king T'Challa, who had all the benefits of being royalty in Wakanda.

"The movie is just exquisite," Frederick said.

Also, the themes of the movie and the fact that a black superhero could headline a major Marvel film helped it transcend other genre movies to become something bigger than itself.

"'Wakanda Forever' is validation for so many people that this feeling of importance, of beauty, of black innovation, and black power will not be forgotten," Frederick said.

She added, "It is not a trend. It's a statement of pride, which is relevant in any era and in any space."

Representation matters

This validation is never more clear than when you ask young children of all races and ages about "Black Panther."

"It tells you that anything is possible," Amirah Zeba, 19, told ABC News last year. "I think it will give me motivation, every time I'm down, I'll think about 'Black Panther.'"

Zeba, a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, got to see the film after a GoFundMe campaign went viral — its goal was to send children to see the movie so that they could see a hero they can relate to and recognize.

Dominique Jones, the executive director at the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, had similar sentiments as Frederick, once again referencing that validation that's so important for children in their formative years.

"Kids need to see more of themselves in positive places. We have to help our kids articulate what they aspire to be and help them tell their own stories," Jones told ABC News.

"Black Panther" is not just a hero, she said, but a king and a beacon of hope on multiple levels.

"As people of color, we can be self-determined to establish our own place in the world," she said. "This brings validity and honor and strength and passion to those goals."

"There's not that many African Americans onscreen and it shows that we can be there, too," 13-year-old Nefertiti Jenkins said.

$1.3 billion at the box office

Much like "The Dark Knight" a decade before it, "Black Panther" also hit theaters with rave reviews from critics and fans alike.

Both movies also made a boatload at the box office. In all, "Black Panther" earned $1.3 billion worldwide, pulling in $700 million domestically.

PHOTO: Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman appear in the film, "Black Panther," 2018.
Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman appear in the film, "Black Panther," 2018.
Marvel Studios

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gave the film a rare four stars — the highest rating — writing in his review, "'Black Panther' is an epic that doesn’t walk, talk or kick a-- like any other Marvel movie — an exhilarating triumph on every level. ... For children (and adults) of color who have longed forever to see a superhero who looks like them, Marvel’s first black-superhero film is an answered prayer, a landmark adventure and a new film classic."

The fact that critics and fans loved the movie so much sent ripples and shockwaves throughout Hollywood, showing studios and producers a film of this kind is not only viable but something that filmmakers should absolutely try to replicate.

Manohla Dargis for the New York Times wrote, "Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one. Its axis point is the fantastical nation of Wakanda, an African Eden where verdant-green landscapes meet blue-sky science fiction. There, spaceships with undercarriages resembling tribal masks soar over majestic waterfalls, touching down in a story that has far more going for it than branding."

The 2019 Oscars take place Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Both ABC News and Marvel, the studio behind "Black Panther," are part of parent company Disney.

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