With awards season upon us once again, Hollywood’s heavyweights are making the rounds as they promote their latest projects in hopes that they’ll bring home more than a few of the industry’s coveted statues of recognition. This week, the nominees for the 2021 Golden Globes were announced, and WandaVision’s Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are both in the running, something that’s sure to please Marvel head Kevin Feige.
Though the nominees for next year’s Oscars have yet to be announced, Feige already making it clear that Marvel wants to make another go at snagging a trophy for one of its superhero films, a genre he thinks the Academy still holds some bias against. During a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter about Shang-Chi’s production, Feige shared some thoughts about the challenges he feels Marvel faces when it tosses its hat into the ring for awards.
“I think we are always at a deficit because of the Marvel logo and because of a genre bias that certainly exists,” Feige said. “I just loved that for a shining moment there with Black Panther that was put aside and the work was recognized for the achievement that it was.” From Feige’s perspective, Shang-Chi was successful as both a film and as a larger project designed to (re)introduce its central hero to a modern day audience. That success, Feige said, is something he wants the rest of Hollywood to understand.
“[T]he work that [the team behind Shang-Chi] did created something new that connected with audiences,” Feige reasoned. “We recognized it, the audience recognized it, and I sure would love the hard work of all of these people who are telling their story to get recognized.”
Feige’s quite right about Shang-Chi and Black Panther having a lot in common when looked at as two instances of a particularly large and successful film studio finally coming around to the idea that entire casts of color can and will lead their films to box office success. What’s a little more iffy, though, is Feige’s seeming presumption that Black Panther and Shang-Chi are so similar that the former’s path being nominated for Best Picture is something the latter is destined for.
While Black Panther’s representation of Black people undoubtedly played a role in the movie’s critical and financial success, it’s important to bear in mind just how much its premise and many of its concepts fell squarely within the Academy’s wheelhouse for films it should be paying attention to. Black Panther was a movie about a man running around dressed up like a cat, sure. But it was also a movie grappling with the sorts of complicated, difficult questions that, while common in comic books, you don’t see very often in their live-action adaptations. Stripped bare of all its action and adventure elements, Black Panther was a film very pointedly asking how a nation like Wakanda could live with itself while standing by and watching as the horrors of anti-Black racism become foundational elements of the world beyond its borders.
What was impressive about Black Panther was its ability to tackle those ideas in a way that didn’t feel if it their presence in the plot was merely lip service. Because there are so few of these big tentpole features built around characters of color, it can be difficult to suss out the differences between them that make some work where others don’t. It really wasn’t until this year’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that one could clearly see how Black Panther’s success did not mean that Marvel had somehow “figured out” how to tell stories about Black people.
Feige is right that there’s some degree of genre bias against cape movies and TV shows in particular, though it likely has a lot to do with the fact that there are just so many of them, and so few of them have felt brave enough to really form and get weird enough for people to realize that they’re not all just commercials for the next big thing.
Black Panther and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are both currently streaming on Disney+.
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