Although it’s been six months (and one big, universe-altering finger snap) since it smashed its way into theaters, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther remains one of the most talked-about movies of the year, breaking numerous box office records, steering months worth of cultural conversation, and posing itself as a strong contender for the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture—if it doesn’t get shunted to the side by recent rule changes by the Academy.
In fact, Coogler’s film was such a phenomenon in movie-loving America at Oscars time this year, a number of people have speculated that the “popular film” category recently announced by the Academy was spurred at least in part specifically by the movie’s existence, a way for the organization to hedge its bets against outrage if Coogler’s opus didn’t score the Best Picture nom. After all: It’s not every capes-and-cowls outing that manages to somehow be both a well-crafted superhero flick, and an auteur, personal statement on black identity and its relationship with its African roots (and also a pretty kick-ass spy movie, at least for the 15 minutes or so that it spends in South Korea).
Per a recent L.A. Times article, though, Marvel’s response to all of this has been a studied dismissal that’s hard not to read as “Fuck your ‘popular movie’ category, we’re gonna win.” As it happens, Black Panther is the first movie that the studio has ever developed a substantive Oscars campaign budget for, hiring a well-known awards consultant and prepping a full For Your Consideration offensive in its support. That fervor doesn’t seem to have been abated in the least by worries it might get shunted off into the new category (or, in the worst case, somehow split votes such that it doesn’t get nominated for either).
For what it’s worth, the Academy would apparently also like to not get yelled at for being seen as relegating one of the biggest movies of 2018 into a consolation prize category; according to one unnamed Oscars consultant, “Right now, I think [academy Chief Executive] Dawn Hudson would crawl in a hole if Black Panther gets snubbed for best picture and winds up landing in the popular film category. The funny thing is that Dawn would be way more disappointed than anyone at Marvel.”