Nerd Factor: Wakanda Forever, Oscars Never

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

The Academy Awards are this Sunday. Black Panther has been nominated for Best Picture. So why am I not more excited about this?  I keep forgetting the show is even coming up when I should be running around shouting “Wakanda forever!”

For one thing, I am so over the Oscars. Once an event that I dared not miss a minute of, the Academy Awards have become a tiresome affair that I’m more than happy to read about the next day. I can think of a number of petty little reasons. The event is too long . . . like wisdom tooth extraction too long . . . but that is been obvious to everyone for a long time now. I also grew up in the era of sensational hosts like Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal. So, no offense, but the past few shows have lacked a certain celebrity oomph. And thanks to a self-inflicted PR mess, we do not even have a designated host this year. But I’m not sure that is the right answer either.

I have also lost a lot of excitement for the Oscars because over the years, I have started to realize that the Oscars are not my party. To me, watching the awards is like attending your significant other’s holiday work party. Everyone there is excited. You perhaps even know some of the people and really enjoy their company. But, as the evening slowly progresses, you begin to understand that you are not part of the group. It is their night, not your night. And then you start to wonder when the party ends.

I have been feeling that way for a long time now, particularly in relation to my favorite genres.  I’m not sure what the correct adjective is to describe this feeling. “Jilted”? “Invalidated”? “Forgotten”?  I just think at this point that we cannot pretend that the Academy is not a fan of popular film in general and of certain genres in particular.

The problem became evident a decade ago when The Dark Knight (2008) failed to pick up a nod for Best Picture. In response, the Academy expanded the number of entries in that category to ten. And going into this year, there was much furor about a quickly announced and then even more quickly abandoned category called “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film.” With a title vaguely reminiscent of “The Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence,” the category was meant to address this oversight in ways that nobody really understood or could define but which would guarantee that somebody would at least somehow nominate Black Panther.   

As a complete aside—how does that movie get a Best Picture nomination but not a Best Director nomination for Ryan Coogler? Basically, the Academy said “It is a great film.  We are not sure how that happened though. Must be the organization of it all.”

So Black Panther is nominated. That is great.  I hope it wins. But I do not care one way or the other. I think it is time fans stopped looking to the Academy to validate certain genres.  The night that The Return of the King (2003) won the big award, I remember thinking “Finally!  They get it!” But if they did get it, they forgot it because it did not happen again. And I do not think we have had a drought of great movies since then.

I think it is time to just let the Academy do its own thing. I would rather be at another party anyway.