With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to create the "Popular Film" award to its Oscars line-up, it's safe to say that Black Panther has a spot comfortably saved in the category. Before the announcement of the new and controversial category, there were discussions about whether the record-breaking Marvel film would score a "Best Picture" nomination. Considering no superhero film has been recognized with the Academy's highest accolade before, it seemed unlikely. Since Black Panther is still racking up the box office cash, was named a 'cultural phenomenon' upon release and has Creed director Ryan Coogler at its helm, it's possible we could see T'Challa with all the stars on Oscars night. Among the cast is Sterling K. Brown, who is undecided about his feelings on the "Popular Film" category. Here are his thoughts on it:
When I first heard of the category, the first question I had was, 'What is the criterion for being nominated in this category?' If it's something that can give it some sort of merit and legitimacy, then I think it's cool. But I think Black Panther stands on its own merits regardless of its popularity as being a wonderful piece of art.
It looks like Sterling K. Brown shares the same uncertainty about the category as many have expressed. "Popular" often suggests strength in numbers over recognition of quality of filmmaking that each "Best Picture" has been celebrated for. Even though the Academy clarified that films can be considered for both the "Popular Film" and "Best Picture" slots, this category could still create somewhat of a divide between what's popular and what was considered an excellent film.
Sterling K. Brown, who played N'Jobu in Black Panther, also expressed to Variety his belief that director Ryan Coogler is an artist who created a movie worthy of recognition. This movie, which is one of the most successful entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has all the components of a blockbuster hit, with action-packed scenes and an impressive ensemble cast. However, it also certainly changed the game as far as the genre goes, delivering a significant message to the masses on race-relations, which is not usually discussed in this venue.
If Black Panther is honored at this year's Oscars with the sole acknowledgement of "it was popular," this won't necessarily make fans of the film happy. It also might not show show a diverse audience that the Academy and therefore the industry is improving their ways when it comes to recognizing people of color. With the addition of the "Popular Film" category, it makes room for big movies such as Black Panther to get their own venue that could be recognized by the Academy, but could also cast a bit of a shadow over what is "art" and what draws crowds. Either way, Black Panther has already made history with its release and it will likely be long remembered.