Is ‘Wonder Woman’ a Serious Oscar Contender?  Warner Bros. Seems to Think So.

Ever since it was released to rave reviews and unprecedented box office success, rumors have swirled round the prospect of Wonder Woman as a serious Oscar contender.  We’re not just talking about the usual technical categories that these kinds of movies are invariably relegated to, either: Special Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, maybe Makeup and Hairstyling.  This is “major category” consideration: Best Picture consideration.

Although I am always hopeful that deserving films — regardless of genre — get the awards attention that they deserve, I never held any hope out for Wonder Woman to achieve the kinds of award attention that movies like The Dark Knight and The Avengers couldn’t manage in their day.  And if a 2017 superhero flick was going to warrant serious attention in major Oscar categories, my money has always been on Logan being the one to do it.

You know who does think that Wonder Woman has a shot at the Oscars this year?  Warner Bros.  The film studio behind this summer’s highest grossing film is launching a full Oscar campaign for the film in all of the major categories, including Patty Jenkins for Best Director, Gal Gadot for Best Actress and, of course, the highly coveted Best Picture award.

Only a few years ago, this kind of all-in campaign for a summer blockbuster would have been unthinkable.  The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences has always been a particularly stuffy crowd — very old, very rich, very white — whose singular tastes have typically lent themselves toward a specific type of film.  Serious dramas, of course, have been the perennial favorite, although the occasional comedy — or maybe even thriller, if they were feeling especially risqué when casting their ballots — were the only movies worth considering, at least for the award body’s most prestigious awards.

But the times, they are a-changing.  In the face of growing controversy about their homogenous membership — spearheaded by campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite — the Academy has taken great pains to broaden and diversity their voting membership.  Long-since retired Academy members were quietly stripped of their voting powers while a young and incredibly colorful class of new members were abducted into the group.

The last Oscar ceremony was the first under the new and greatly changed Academy.  And instead of what would have been the odds-on favorite in previous races, namely Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, it was an ambitious movie about the gay Black American experience: a small, indie race drama that wouldn’t have stood a chance in any previous Oscar race.

Film goers have been hungry for a new kind of film for years now.  Wanting more than just period pieces starring the nearly interchangeable lineup of straight-jawed white dudes named Chris, the doors have been flung wide open, allowing anything and everything a chance to compete at the highest levels.

In this new awards season landscape, Wonder Woman might just be the perfect movie to win been on Oscar Sunday.  It’s directed and headlined by a woman.  It’s a massively popular blockbuster whose vocal fan base is already demanding some kind of recognition for it.  It has the momentous winds of history on its side, both in terms of the importance of its character and of its place in Hollywood.

There are even analogs among the Oscar nominees of recent years  After all, the Academy threw a surprising amount of its weight behind Mad Max: Fury Road: a high-octane, woman-centered blockbuster.  They achieved similar successes with both critics and audiences alike, but Wonder Woman has the benefit of a new Academy behind it: one that might not be as conservative as the one that determined the fate of Fury Road.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how far Wonder Woman can get with the Academy.  Merely getting a nomination for Best Picture will show just how much the Academy has changed in a few short years.


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