The winners of the Best Ensemble award took to the stage to remind everyone in the audience of the importance of diversity.
Black Panther is making history this awards season, simple by being nominated.
It is the first superhero movie to compete for awards at the major ceremonies, including the Screen Actors Guild awards, where it was nominated for Best Ensemble, the night’s highest honour.
And when Jodie Foster took to the stage to announce the winner of the SAGs’ equivalent of Best Picture, it was Black Panther that won over A Star Is Born, Crazy Rich Asians, Bohemian Rhapsody and BlacKkKlansman.
As their movie’s name was read out, castmembers Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett jumped up and down and cheered. “Wakanda forever!” Nyong’o shouted, grinning. The entire cast, including Michael B Jordan, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira, ascended the stage as the auditorium stood and applauded.
In his passionate acceptance speech, star Boseman stressed the importance of movies like Black Panther when it comes to making real change in Hollywood.
“When I think of going to work every day and the passion and intelligence and the discipline that everybody showed,” Boseman said. “I think of two questions that we all had to keep during the course of publicity.”
“One, [was] if we knew that this movie was going to receive this kind of response. Was it going to make a billion dollars? Was it going to be around during this awards season?”
“And the second question,” he continued, “is has it changed the industry? Has it actually changed the way this industry works? How it sees us?”
“My answer to that is to be young, gifted and black,” he said. “Because all of us up here know, to be young gifted and black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. You are young, gifted and black.”
Boseman continued: “We know what it’s like to be told that there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, not a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. To be beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day. To exemplify a world we wanted to see. We knew that we had something that we wanted to give.”
The orchestra tried to cut Boseman off and end his speech but the audience wasn’t having any of it. “Don’t play me off,” he said, to cheers and applause from his peers. “It’s a pleasure to be seen by you, to be loved by you,” he concluded.
Famously, the SAGs have been a poor predictor of Oscar glory in the Best Picture/Best Ensemble category. The awards are slightly different, as the Oscars reward a picture in its entirety, from behind-the-scenes to in front of the camera, whereas the SAGs focus solely on acting.
Movies like La La Land weren’t even nominated for the SAG Best Ensemble award, while later picking up Oscar nominations, and films like Hidden Pictures won at the SAGs but lost out at the Oscars. Last year, The Shape of Water missed out on a nomination for Best Ensemble at the SAGs, but ended up winning the top prize at the Oscars.
This year’s Oscar race is one of the most fraught in recent memory, without anything even approaching a frontrunner among the Best Picture nominees. A Star Is Born started with momentum but has fizzled out, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book are both shrouded in controversy, and there doesn’t seem to be enough buzz behind The Favourite, Vice or BlacKkKlansman. At this stage, just a month out from the ceremony, the Oscars’ top prize is very much up for grabs.
Without getting too inside baseball, the Oscars decide their winners through a preferential ballot, which means that a movie that is universally liked - as Black Panther is - could sneak in to win the whole thing if it receives enough second or third place votes in a year. And, if today’s SAG Awards win says anything, it’s that Black Panther is definitely universally liked.
Whether or not Black Panther’s success tonight predicts anything at next month’s Oscars ultimately remains unclear. What is obvious, though, is that superhero movies are finally getting the critical recognition that they deserve and that the film industry is opening its eyes to the value of telling diverse stories for diverse audiences.
Will Black Panther’s win at the SAGs translate to Oscar glory? Maybe. But there’s definitely a good chance that you might be hearing “Wakanda forever” from the podium at the Oscars in February.