All award season, no one has really expected Black Panther to win. Just being nominated IS the win, when the trophy club is so stacked against superhero movies. But the SAGs broke rank and actually gave Black Panther a trophy, awarding the cast Best Ensemble, the equivalent of Best Picture. This is a big deal! The SAG Awards are not a great prognosticator for the Oscars—their Best Ensemble lines up with Best Picture slightly less than 50% of the time—but the actors are the biggest voting branch of the Academy. So they are not without clout, which they have just put behind Black Panther. Meanwhile, the Producers Guild Awards, representing the second largest voting body, went for Green Book. They’re split! The two biggest blocs are split! We have a race!
Remember when it seemed like everyone was willing to just roll over and let A Star is Born have it all? Well no more. At this point, the only category where Star is an odds-on favorite is Best Original Song. Roma was not represented at the SAGs, but you know it will have some fans at the Academy, and now the two biggest voting groups are in a showdown, so it really is anyone’s race, at this point. The weird weighted voting system of the Oscars usually works out to favor second and third-favorite films, so it’s not like Black Panther has to top the most ballots. It just has to be included enough that, should the #1 spot break across a few films, it can rise up based on that preferential voting that no one quite understands. And this year, it doesn’t feel like there is a consensus pick. Green Book has its fans, Bohemian Rhapsody has a crowd, there are obviously a lot of admirers in most branches for The Favourite and Roma. And now Black Panther might actually be a contender! This is VERY exciting. Will we still need a Best Popular Oscar if one of the most successful movies of all time wins Best Picture?
Helping out with Black Panther’s now actually viable Oscar campaign is Chadwick Boseman. For one thing, he looked AMAZING. The cats of Black Panther have consistently been among the best-dressed people on any given red carpet. LOOK AT THEM. Look at Lupita Nyong’o’s deconstructed tuxedo dress! Danai Gurira’s feathers! Angela Bassett’s 3D sculptural gown! Chadwick’s blazer of leaves and lapel pins! And there is Michael B. Jordan wearing a version of the Louis Vuitton “embroidered bib” Timothee Chalamet wore to the Golden Globes. Actually, it kind of drives me crazy that MBJ’s bib was crooked for most of the night. But still! Embroidered bib!
But Chadwick’s speech is really what put Black Panther over the top for the night. Referencing Nina Simone’s song, he talked about being “young, gifted and black,” and what it means to spend your career working from “below and not above”, and then to finally be the lead, to be the star, to be featured as part of an incredible ensemble of talent that has for so long and too often gone underappreciated by their peers. He was funny (“Oh hi Andy”), he was sincere—he gave the kind of speech that people will watch and share and remember. Oscar voting begins on February 12th. Plenty of time for Marvel and Black Panther to build on this momentum. Black Panther has been an unstoppable phenomenon from the moment it was announced. It would be a fitting finale if it goes out as the Best Picture of 2018.