‘Black Panther’ Oscar nominations break barriers in black representation

Maegan Kirby

With the upcoming 91st Academy Awards on Feb. 24, the seven nominations for “Black Panther,” including Best Picture, is a culturally historic moment for the Academy and black filmmakers.

“Black Panther” was written, directed and largely made by black filmmakers and actors, bringing increased diversity to the screen and to the film industry. Its nomination carries the social impact of African-American pride and excellence that has resonated with the world and within the film industry.

Winston Williams, co-founder and executive director of Austin’s Capital City Black Film Festival, agrees. He said the “Black Panther” Oscar nominations are a continuation of black talent that has been prominent in the film industry and inspires the new generation of upcoming creators and filmmakers.

“I think (the nomination) says ‘Here’s the proof that the black voice, black creativity and black opportunity (have) always been present in film,’” Williams said. “It says, ‘So can you. You can achieve the highest level of accomplishment in your craft because the opportunities are available.’”

As a comic book movie, “Black Panther” has broken down the genre bias which caused past films to be snubbed, namely “The Dark Knight” in 2008.

Journalism freshman Sola Kantai said the sense of excitement that the success of “Black Panther” brings to young African-American media influencers is giving new motivation to black creators.

“You can be any person and produce any type of movie and be recognized as long as you touch someone,” Kantai said “That’s what’s important.”

Ya’Ke Smith, a radio-television-film associate professor and award-winning filmmaker, said that black-created films such as “Moonlight” have preceded, but “Black Panther” has a social reach like no other and is a true representation of bold, black excellence.

“The beautiful rendering of blackness was not only a breath of fresh air, but it was inspiring because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen on that large of a scale,” Smith said. “It speaks to the African-American experience both past and present. It frames our struggle, our resilience, our greatness and our ability to overcome against all odds, for all the world to see.”

As a world-wide acclaimed filmmaker and teacher to a new generation of creators, Smith can attest to the nomination of “Black Panther” bringing more inclusiveness for African-American representation on the screen and behind the scenes.

“It broadens the scope of the types of stories that filmmakers of color will not only be able to pitch, but actually see come to fruition,” Smith said.

With “Black Panther” being a technically and artistically acclaimed film, Smith believes it measures up to the other ‘Best Picture’ nominations despite being the first of its genre. Even if it does not win, it’s nomination is already considered a watershed moment for the Academy, African-American filmmakers and the audience who find pride and representation in the film.

“A lot of (black film) narratives are posited around surviving the system, overcoming the odds, fighting against racism and saving the world,” said Smith. “I hope that ‘Black Panther’s’ success creates a space where the black experience can finally be portrayed in film with a sense of normalcy and not merely as a fetish for mainstream consumption.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that one of Ya’Ke Smith's films had been nominated for an Academy Award. The Texan regrets this error.