The annals of film history are littered with far more movies that went unrecognized with a best picture nomination than those that are, but few made more of an impression on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences than “The Dark Knight.”
Ten years ago Christopher Nolan’s film received eight nominations and won two awards, for supporting actor and sound editing, but outrage over the absence of even a chance to win that top prize prompted the Academy to increase the number of nominees, and more broadly, instigated a cultural conversation about whether or not superhero films deserve to be considered alongside more “serious” works of cinematic art. That debate roiled in the ether until this year, when “Black Panther” finally became the first movie superhero film to compete for best picture.
Producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige says he looked at the historic nomination less as overdue vindication for a maligned genre than astute recognition of “Black Panther’s” visionary co-writer and director.
“I think of it as the first Ryan Coogler film to be nominated for best picture,” Feige says. “Using our canvas, he realized that those were the tools with which he could explore what it means to be African- American and the notion of what it means to be responsible for others.
“That it happened to be based in a comic-book medium was good for us,” he says. “But that’s what gave him a megaphone to tell a very personal story.”
According to whom you ask, any number of superhero films over the past decade were worthy of a best picture nomination, from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” to “Logan.” But even if Feige was initially inspired to embark on a career by the films he’d stay up past his bedtime as a child on Oscar night to see win awards, he says Marvel Studios’ focus was on creating memorable stories and building what became a Cinematic Universe rather than reaping awards.
“The Oscars represents the pinnacle of achievement in Hollywood, so certainly when I first stepped off the bus in 1991 to go to film school at USC, that was in my mind,” he says. “But as my career went on, I was much more focused on telling stories on our large canvas that play around the world and inspire people to engage with the characters.
“We set out to tell the best stories we could, make the kind of movies that hopefully stand the test of time and appeal to and inspire people the way my favorite films in the past inspired me.”
“Black Panther’s” record-breaking success — reflected in several of its Oscar nominations — came in part as the result of changing the way that Marvel did business since the studio launched in 2008.
“Ryan encouraged us to hire people who hadn’t necessarily done films of this size before, which we often do when it comes to the director position, but not always when it came to cinematographer or production designer or costume designer,” Feige says, referring to costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler. “And now those examples are nominated for an Academy Award this year.”
But as both Marvel Studios and the era of the Oscar-worthy superhero film enters its second decade, Feige says he hopes the genre and the accolades it’s enjoying will be looked at as part of a bigger lineage of movies that resonate, inspire and provoke thought.
“That’s always been the appeal to us, that kind of storytelling that allows you to connect in a deeper fashion to your characters. Those used to be the films that were often nominated for best picture and sometimes won. If this nomination for ‘Black Panther’ shows a return to that, I think would be great, not just for people like myself who make these kinds of movies, but great for the kids in New Jersey or anywhere staying up late to be inspired by those kinds of films and this amazing recognition.”