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Mon, April 22

‘Black Panther’ poised to become an Oscars heavyweight

NEW YORK (AP) – "Black Panther" has, in a way, already been to the Oscars.

Much of the film's cast was eagerly highlighted at March's ceremony: a welcome splash of blockbuster luster at an Academy Awards that largely lacked it. "Black Panther" had at the time already been in theaters for a few weeks, leading host Jimmy Kimmel to note:

"This is a night for positivity and our plan is to shine a light on a group of outstanding and inspiring films, each and every one of which got crushed by 'Black Panther' this weekend," said Kimmel while much of the audience either laughed or winced. (On Oscar Sunday alone, "Black Panther" grossed $19.9 million.)

As Hollywood's awards season properly gets under way, "Black Panther" is poised to return to the Academy Awards, but this time as a nominee – and potentially a major one. Ryan Coogler's superhero sensation has already notched countless records, pulverized box-office myths and set new marks for inclusivity. And now, "Black Panther" is in line to shatter Oscar norms, too.

All of this year's contenders have by now screened, and Oscar prognosticators generally have "Black Panther" in, comfortably, as a best picture nominee. Both the pundit survey "Gurus of Gold" and Hollywood Reporter awards analyst Scott Feinberg place "Black Panther" fifth, behind front-runners "A Star Is Born," ''Roma," ''Green Book" and "The Favourite." Gold Derby slots "Black Panther" in at No. 7, still easily within the category's range of up to 10 nominees.

Much is still in flux in the Oscar race ahead of Thursday morning's Golden Globes nominations. But unless something drastic happens, "Black Panther" will next month become the first comic book film to be nominated for best picture and easily Marvel Studios' most significant Oscar contender ever.

That's very good news for ABC's Feb. 24 telecast which is coming off an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers. Some 55.2 million watched "Titanic" sweep the 1997 Oscars, and producers have long harbored dreams of another big-tent blockbuster pulling viewers to a broadcast increasingly dominated by independent films like "The Shape of Water," ''Moonlight" and "Spotlight." Usually, bigger movies mean bigger ratings.

For the makers of "Black Panther," it's a new chapter for a film – with more than $1.3 billion in ticket sales, the third-highest all-time domestic gross and the biggest box-office hit ever directed by a black man – that has already filled record books. What does Coogler think of "Black Panther" as an Oscar movie?

"Fortunately, I don't have to think about it that much," the 32-year-old filmmaker of "Fruitvale Station" and "Creed" said in an interview. "I've grown to have close relationships with my collaborators, so I care about the crafts people who work on the film and the actors who work on the film. Because of those relationships, I'm happy when they're happy. It's always nice when people are recognized for their work. But beyond that, I really don't worry about it."

Yet few films will be watched more closely through awards season than "Black Panther," which is also in the running for Ruth Carter's costume design, the cinematography of Rachel Morrison (who last year became the first woman ever nominated in the category), Hannah Beachler's production design, Coogler's direction, the script by Joe Robert Cole and Coogler, Kendrick Lamar's song "All the Stars" and Michael B. Jordan's supporting performance.

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