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How the Black Panther Oscar nominations made history

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Hannah Beachler, the film’s production designer, is the first black person ever to be nominated in the category.

Black Panther has been a bonafide, certified record-breaker since the moment it premiered in February last year.

It was the first superhero movie about a black superhero, the highest-grossing movie of all time directed by a black man, the biggest opening weekend for a superhero movie (and a movie that wasn’t a sequel) and the first movie that caused teenagers to clamp their teeth down on their retainers, shattering them into pieces, when they first clapped eyes on the movie’s villain Killmonger (Michael B Jordan). 

Now, it has been nominated for seven Oscars, making history in the process. Black Panther is officially the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, a feat that no Marvel or DC movie before it has achieved. 

But it’s the movie’s nominations in some of the other Oscar categories that are worth celebrating. Black Panther was also recognised in the Best Original Score category, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Song, Best Costume Design and Best Production.

In these last two categories, the Oscars have recognised the work of some truly trailblazing women who made the world of Wakanda in Black Panther look so good. The costumes in the movie, with all their future-tech and sleek super-suits, were designed by Ruth E Carter. Her nomination for Black Panther is her third for costume design, after she became the first black person nominated in the category in 1993 for Malcolm X. She received her second Oscar nomination in 1998 for Armistad.

Also making history is Hannah Beachler, who was Oscar-nominated for her production design on the movie, making her the first black person to be spotlighted in the category. Beachler is a true visionary in the industry, having crafted the production design on Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album before creating the very specific, light-flooded contemporary look and feel of the Oscar-winning Moonlight.

Hannah Beachler

For Black Panther, Beachler was inspired by the genre of Afro-futurism to create a vision of an African country untouched by Colonialism and powered both literally and figuratively by the shimmering energy of vibranium, the fictional metal mined from Wakanda that flows through all of the country’s super-weapons and can be found in Captain America’s shield. The result was a true visual feast of world-building, with Beachler’s Wakanda populated by soaring skyscrapers, marble palaces and sprawling waterfalls.

Reacting to her ceiling-smashing nomination, Beachler said: “I’m crying one minute then doing a little dance the next second and then crying again thinking of the weightiness of it, as well as the humbleness of it and the joy of it.” 

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“Black Panther is a love letter to dark-skinned black women”

“But you do feel a certain responsibility,” she added. “It means breaking down walls… for young women of colour and boys and girls of colour to see that this is not impossible… I’m always aware of those that came before me who died for me to be here and free and doing the work that I love. So I have to always pay that forward, I have to always return that to them.”

Beachler is nominated alongside Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton for The Favourite, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas for First Man, John Myhre and Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns and Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez for ROMA. Oscars pundits are mostly predicting a win for ROMA, which would be richly deserved.

But we’re going to be rooting for Beachler and her vibrant, dynamic Black Panther vision to win at the Oscars in February.

Images: Marvel, Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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