The word “pride” means many things in the world of Black Panther.
It stands for the dignity and tradition of T’Challa and his ancestry, presiding over the powerful but secretive African nation of Wakanda. It speaks to the admiration of countless fans around the world, especially black moviegoers, who saw themselves reflected in the Marvel Studios film.
It’s also the term for the social circle that large cats assemble for protection in the wild, and although panthers typically travel alone, the hero of this story knows the power of alliances.
And on Tuesday, it’s the word the producer of the film used to describe the importance of its Best Picture nomination at the 91st Academy Awards.
“The word that keep coming to me from the moment it happened is just this humbling sense of pride for everyone involved in the movie,” says Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios and architect of its interlocked series of movies.
Black Panther collected a total of seven nominations, but its Best Picture nod is the first ever for a superhero movie.
“It’s the most important recognition that a film can receive in our industry. That’s not lost on any of us. It’s something that’s immensely gratifying,” Feige told EW. “As the numerous phone calls and text messages [show] that went back and forth between all of us who were lucky enough to work on the film, it is just … pride.”
The celebration was somewhat bittersweet because director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) did not get recognized in either of those categories.
Still, Feige said it was Coogler’s vision that inspired Academy voters to finally honor a comic book story.
“I think Black Panther is a unique movie told by a unique filmmaker in a unique time,” Feige says. “It comes down to this amazing cast and crew, and a brilliant director who had something to say. He had a very personal story and struggle to explore, and he wanted to use this movie and this canvas to tell it. Looking over the past year at the cultural impact this movie has had around the world, it feels like the recognition from the Academy this morning is the pinnacle of that.”
Beyond that, Feige said the movie had an inspiration effect within the filmmaking community.
He believes Academy members were responding to “the message of Black Panther, and not just the message within the thematics of the film, but even the story of how the film was made, how it came together, and how it was received.”
“t’s about representation, and it’s about inclusion, and it’s about the importance of telling different types of stories,” he said. “That the Academy recognized that this morning is extremely gratifying to all of us.
Even within the narrative itself, there’s a heart and curiosity that elevates it above the average action-adventure: What is your personal responsibility to others in the world?
“As Ryan always tells it,” Feige said, “the inherent question of the film is, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that was valuable question to ask — and answered it with a historic nomination.