By Adam B. Vary VARIETY
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” star Angela Bassett made superhero cinema history on Tuesday as the first woman, the first person of color and the first Marvel Studios actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for their performance in a comic book adaptation. It’s Bassett’s second Oscar nomination; her first came 29 years ago for best actress for 1993’s Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
But while Bassett’s nomination breaks several Oscar barriers, “Wakanda Forever” failed to equal the best picture nod earned by 2018’s “Black Panther” — the first superhero movie ever nominated for Oscar’s top prize. The film was also nominated for Ruth E. Carter for costume design; “Lift Me Up” for original song (by Tems, Ludwig Göransson, Rihanna and Ryan Coogler); Camille Friend and Joel Harlow for makeup and hairstyling; and Geoffrey Baumann, Craig Hammack, Hanzhi Tang and Dan Sudick for visual effects.
The lack of a best picture nomination isn’t exactly a shock. While “Wakanda Forever” did pick up a PGA nod, the film wasn’t nearly as universally beloved by critics as the original, and it faced steep competition from several other high profile sequels in the blockbuster space, namely “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Knives Out” follow-up “Glass Onion.” “Maverick” and “Way of Water” both scored best picture nominations.
Bassett, meanwhile, remains the presumptive frontrunner in the supporting actress category for her performance as Queen Ramonda, the head of state of Wakanda — she’s already won the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, and she’s nominated for several others, including the NAACP Image Award, the SAGs and the BAFTAs.
The 64-year-old actor enters what had been to this point a tiny and exclusive club of white, male actors who’ve earned nominations for comic book and graphic novel adaptations: supporting actor nominees Al Pacino (1990’s “Dick Tracy”), Paul Newman (2002’s “Road to Perdition”) and William Hurt (2005’s “A History of Violence”); and supporting actor winner Heath Ledger (for 2008’s “The Dark Knight”) and leading actor winner Joaquin Phoenix (for 2019’s “Joker”). Bassett is also the second oldest Black woman ever nominated for an acting Oscar, behind supporting actress nominee Ruby Dee (2007’s “American Gangster”).
As Ramonda, Bassett had to be at once formidable as the leader of her country and anguished by the loss of her son T’Challa, whose passing echoed the August 2020 death of star Chadwick Boseman. For Variety‘s November 2022 cover story on “Wakanda Forever,” Bassett said playing Ramonda was “a whole, rich meal,” and that she had no problem drawing from her own grief over Boseman’s death.
“Use it,” she said. “Make it good for something. You’re experiencing it. Don’t be ashamed of it. It’s part of life. The tears you see are indicative of the love I have — or the justice I demand or want or seek or desire.”