‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ hopes to replicate ‘Black Panther’ Oscar success

A few weekends back “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” exploded into theaters with a $330 million global opening. Since then it’s soared past the $350 million mark domestically, making this as good a time as any to examine the Oscar prospects for Marvel Studio’s latest.

The biggest question some may have is whether “Wakanda Forever” might break into the Best Picture race, since “Black Panther” was nominated there. It also won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for best ensemble cast in 2019. Let’s put that crucial Best Picture conversation on the shelf for now, since it’s probably wiser to address some of the movie’s other possibilities first. As background, reviews for “Wakanda Forever” were generally favorable, with 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and an  “A” CinemaScore from audiences. (“Black Panther” received better reviews — 96% on Rotten Tomatoes — and a rare “A+” CinemaScore.)

Although the 2018 “Black Panther” movie didn’t get any acting nominations, not even for the late Chadwick Boseman – he was instead posthumously nominated for “Ma Raimey’s Black Bottom” two years later following his tragic 2020 death from cancer – there are particularly strong performances from veterans like previous Oscar nominee Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda, and Letitia Wright, who takes over the lead in the film as his sister, Shuri. Both of them are mourning the death of T’Challa, which provides the framework for Wakanda’s conflict with Tenoch Huerta’s Namor and his underwater empire.

It’s safe to assume that the more likely Oscar nominations will be the below-the-line crafts where the previous movie was nominated and won. Ruth E. Carter’s costumes in “Black Panther” were absolutely phenomenal, and she won an Oscar for her work, becoming the first African-American woman to do so. “Wakanda Forever” doubles down with many new looks for the Wakandans, but also wardrobing the inhabitants of Namor’s home of Talokan, outfits that are just as striking. Frankly, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Carter gets another nomination or even becomes a two-time winner for her work on “Wakanda Forever.”

Similarly, production designer Hannah Beachler and set decorator Jay Hart were nominated and won the Oscar for Best Production Design that year for building and dressing the film’s fantastic locations. Beachler became the first African-American nominated in the category, as well as the first to win, although the set decoration for “Wakanda Forever” is instead by Lisa K. Sessions. There’s little reason why “Wakanda Forever” can’t get nominated here again, especially since it added the underwater kingdom of Talokan to the mix, although this is one category where “Wakanda Forever” might have tougher competition, including James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” another sequel to an Oscar-winning film.

Another Oscar winner from “Black Panther” was composer Ludwig Göransson for that movie’s original score, although this year that might be another tough category with so many previous Oscar winners in the mix doing equally fantastic work like John Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and Justin Hurwitz (“Babylon”).

Oddly, neither the cinematography nor the film editing were nominated for “Black Panther,” though to be fair, those can be challenging categories in any year, despite being directly associated with the look and pacing of a film. These are also two categories that frequently contain Best Picture nominees, raising the bar even higher.

“Black Panther” did get two sound nominations at a time when sound was split into two categories — Sound Editing and Sound Mixing — and there’s a good chance it might get nominated for the single Best Sound category this year, although there’s a lot more competition including “Top Gun: Maverick,” which might actually be the front-runner there.

There has always been this strange dichotomy in the academy where all these talented crafts people can get nominated for and win Oscars for a movie while the director might not even get nominated. That was the case with Denis Villeneuve last year, despite “Dune” winning six Oscars, all in the craft and technical categories. This is partially because the academy is split into branches with cinematographers nominating other cinematographers, costume designers nominating other costume designers, etc. For whatever reason, the directors branch tends to tread its own path. Ryan Coogler is a worthy enough filmmaker that the academy should be honoring him with a nomination, especially after not nominating him for the first “Black Panther,” but I think there’s still a stigma among directors due to the film’s genre, even though Todd Phillips did get nominated for his 2019 comics-inspired “Joker.”

Getting back to Best Picture, it might be a tougher climb for “Wakanda Forever” to scale even with a guaranteed 10 Best Picture slots. The sad fact is that “Black Panther” was an outlier, being one of the few superhero movies to get a Best Picture nomination, as well as one of the few to win multiple Oscars. (“Joker” was another rarity.) As of this writing only five out of 22 Gold Derby Experts think “Wakanda Forever” will get nominated, so the odds so far aren’t great.

In addition, “Wakanda Forever” is a sequel, which is also something we rarely see at the Oscars. One of the exceptions was Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the third part of his exceptional trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, which cleaned up at the Oscars, winning all 11 categories in which it was nominated in 2004 including Best Picture, a feat that has not been achieved since then. 

Another example is Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which famously didn’t get a Best Picture nomination at a time when there were only five movies nominated, although it still got eight Oscar bids, winning two. But then its 2012 sequel, “The Dark Knight Rises,” received zero Oscar nominations. Granted, the latter wasn’t quite as well received, but it still got mostly positive reviews. This will be an interesting phenomenon to reexamine not only with “Wakanda Forever,” but with the second half of “Dune” next year. Part one was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning six, but maybe Villeneuve will get nominated if the second part is as well received as the first.

Putting all the above together, it seems like “Wakanda Forever” may have a harder time getting Oscar love than the original “Black Panther,” other than in some of the categories where its predecessor already won, and even then, those categories have stiffer competition. Time will tell.

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