Assemble the Avengers and unite the Justice League, because superheroes of all colors, costumes and comic-book movie universes now have something to celebrate: Black Panther has made the world safe for Best Picture-nominated superhero stories. Ryan Coogler’s groundbreaking, record-shattering 2018 hit has made Oscar history as the first comic-book movie to compete for the academy’s top prize. It’s an achievement that changes the game for the genre going forward, especially as a new wave of ambitious Marvel and DC-derived movies prepares to sweep into theaters this year and next, including Avengers: Endgame, Joker and Wonder Woman 1984.
And WW84 director Patty Jenkins couldn’t be happier to enter a brave new world where comic-book movies are a serious part of the awards conversation. “I never understood why any type of movie is more likely than another [to be nominated],” she tells Yahoo Entertainment, while chatting about her upcoming TNT series, I Am the Night. “This art form has so many people doing great work in all different genres. I think it’s great that a superhero film was finally nominated, and I’m particularly happy that it was Black Panther.”
The campaign to make room for superheroes in the Best Picture category goes back at least a decade to Christopher Nolan’s genre-redefining The Dark Knight, which famously missed out on a nomination, although Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the Joker. Since then, films like Logan and Jenkins’s first Wonder Woman film have been floated as potential barrier-breakers because of their critical acclaim and commercial success.
Some also made the case for Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot to become the first superhero nominated for Best Actress — a glass ceiling the Israeli actress could potentially shatter with the sequel, due in theaters June 5, 2020. (Let’s not forget that Jenkins directed Charlize Theron to a Best Actress statue for her debut film, Monster.)
Jenkins, for one, says she’s trying to “tune out” any awards chatter as she enters the editing room to start building Gadot’s WW84 performance. “I would never, ever, ever, ever edit a performance to go for an award. You can only do the best work and do the work you believe in. When I have seen artists start scuttling after those awards before … it shows. There’s something insincere [that] starts to happen.”
But she does believe that performers like Gadot and her fellow heroes are often undervalued by awards bodies. “The emotional performances given by an actor in an action movie is something that I don’t think that people understand how incredible it is. Gal gave a tour-de-force performance, but she’s in a wire in front of a green screen, acting against no one! This is what actors have to be able to do in a movie like Wonder Woman or Black Panther, and it changes your understanding of what’s spectacular. Some of the best acting I’ve ever seen has actually happened in these kinds of movies.”
The threats facing Diana Prince in WW84 will absolutely demand all of Gadot’s emotional and physical power. Besides going toe-to-toe with a new foe, Cheetah (played by Kristen Wiig), she’ll also find herself fighting the excesses of the 1980s. Last year, Gadot posted an image from the set showing Diana staring at a bank of TV screens, leading some to speculate whether the 1984 setting was a nod to George Orwell’s dystopian classic.
But not so fast! “We weren’t actually referencing that,” Jenkins reveals. “I would say we’re referencing Van Halen’s album more than George Orwell’s book. [The year] 1984 was, to me, the height of the opulence of Western civilization. It was so intense for those of us of that generation, and part of the reason I set it then is because I want all of us to remember what it was like to live that way. I don’t want to be pointing and laughing, I want you to be in it and say, ‘Remember how fun this was?'”
An early clip that Jenkins revealed at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year speaks to the specific kind of nostalgia she’s trying to evoke. The short sequence depicted Wonder Woman in mid-mission in the most ’80s of settings: a mall. “Shooting that was a trip,” she says, laughing. “I didn’t want to leave the mall when we were done shooting! It was like being in the past, and there was something so bittersweet about walking away from it. I was like, ‘God, I wish we could go back before we knew all these things, and let me just stay in that arcade!'”
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