Culture Vulture: Why don’t superhero films deserve awards?

BY DEMETRIA OSEI-TUTU ’17

Every award season, one genre of films is always missing: superhero films. Why don’t superhero films get prestigious awards like the Oscars? Not all superhero films deserve awards because, let’s be honest, not all of them are great pieces of storytelling or great acting, but there are enough that are.

According to the Oscars website, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts has handed out 3,048 awards since its start in 1929 — only 10 of which were awarded to superhero films. They have been nominated for 48 awards across several different categories, but for the most part, when they do get nominated, they are nominated in technical categories such as visual effects, sound editing, cinematography and makeup and hairstyling. Not in the categories most audiences follow: Best supporting actor, best actor, best supporting actress, best actress, best director and best picture.

The academy seems to love biopics, period films and other “real life” films that show the complexity of life but are often very serious, boring, angsty and angry. Especially popular are independent films or, at the very least, films that aren’t mainstream blockbusters. Don’t get me wrong, some academy-nominated films do deserve their nominations for being literal works of art, like “Moonlight.” Superheroes, supervillains, etc. don’t seem to have a place in the complexity of life the Academy seeks. It’s like they are not seen as serious films, despite stellar acting, writing and production just like that of other nominated films.

It doesn’t help that the median age, according to a 2012 LA Times report, of academy members is 62. This is not exactly the demographic to acknowledge and nominate superhero films or blockbusters in general.

The assumption that superhero films are nothing more than mindless entertainment is unfair. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” for example, went against that grain by bringing up and dealing with relevant issues like corruption, terrorism, domestic surveillance and security. Furthermore, these issues were tied together into a political thriller that happened to be a superhero movie as well.

Sebastian Stan offered a great performance in “The Winter Soldier.” He had barely 30 lines, yet he conveyed, through body language and facial expression, a wide variety of emotions. He portrayed the deadliness of an assassin alongside the pain, confusion and inner turmoil of a brainwashed war hero. Stan made the audience both fear and feel for the Winter Soldier. If Anne Hathaway can win Best Supporting Actress for 15 minutes of screentime in “Les Miserables” and for singing a song about dying and life going wrong, then I think Stan’s silent but powerful performance as a brainwashed assassin deserves to win an award as well.

As it stands now, the only superhero movie that has been nominated and won in an acting category is Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” after which Heath Ledger won posthumously for his role as the Joker. Perhaps this win only occurred because Ledger never won an Oscar before his death. But, it still means there is a chance for other superhero films to do as well.

Hopefully in the future the academy will change and not be so narrow-minded regarding films. Superhero films are definitely not going anywhere, and it’s about time they get recognition for being the works of art that they are.

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