Two years ago, at the 91st Academy Awards, Marvel Studios scored its first-ever Best Picture nomination for Black Panther, a film that exploded from the realm of blockbuster into the realm of full-blown cultural phenomenon a year earlier. Though it wasn't expected to actually win the top prize that year, Black Panther's nod in the Oscars' top category — along with Marvel's first-ever Oscar wins for Costume Design, Production Design, and Original Score — seemed to signal an arrival of sorts.
After years of dominating the box office, Marvel was finally earning a larger share of respect on the awards circuit.
Today, with 28 Emmy nominations for its first two streaming series, the MCU may have finally topped the incredible whirlwind celebration of Black Panther and its cast and crew that also included a BAFTA and two Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2019. As a streaming service overall, Disney+ did rather well, scoring widely expected noms for The Mandalorian's second season as well, but in an age when we're still constantly debating the question of whether superhero movies can ever garner prestige on an awards stage, the 23 nominations for WandaVision and five for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stand out.
After Black Panther's triumph on the big-screen awards circuit, Marvel Studios in general and WandaVision in particular seems poised to top that run, giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe an unprecedented level of prestige in its trophy case.
We've grown used to superhero stories pulling in nominations in various technical and craft awards thanks to the ever-expanding arsenal of effects wizardry at work in big-and-small screen properties, and WandaVision was no different in that regard. The series garnered nods for everything from its costuming to its production design to editing, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier got nods for visual effects, sound editing, and stunt work. The behind-the-camera love also extended to the show's incredible music (including iconic earworm "Agatha All Along"), writing (three of the six nominees in the Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series category are WandaVision episodes), and directing.
Seeing a Marvel Studios property garner love for its writing and directing feels like a bit of a breakthrough on its own, but things get even bigger when you reach the acting awards. WandaVision's three key players — Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and the scene-stealing Kathryn Hahn — all garnered nominations for their work in the limited series, and while the competition is stiff (Olsen in particular has to face off against Anya Taylor-Joy's remarkable work in The Queen's Gambit) the trio of nods alone feels like an important moment.
Until today, the highest-profile acting acknowledgement the MCU received came in the form of Black Panther's Screen Actors Guild award for Best Performance by a Cast. That was an incredible moment, a celebration not just of a superhero film but of Black Panther's ensemble of Black actors and the world they created together. Now, with WandaVision, Marvel has a chance to garner a different kind of celebration on the small screen. Emmy wins for the series' stars could say to the awards circuit what fans have known all along: That the MCU is a place where world class actors can turn in world class performances, and that you don't have to play The Joker to win acting awards for a comic book adaptation.
Of course, as with any awards discussion, there's an argument to be made that none of this matters, that the awards are always political and influenced by a million things beyond quality and the power of the moment. There's also a less cynical argument to be made that there are other, more deserving Emmy winners out there, and in a limited series field that also includes work like Mare of Easttown and The Underground Railroad, that's certainly worth remembering. For the moment, though, let's focus on the impact of the nominations themselves in an age when every single awards season brings with it the "Will comic book movies ever be taken seriously?" question.
Superhero stories arguably don't need the awards, whether we're talking about Joker or Avengers: Endgame. They have, after all, the audiences, and the box office glory, and the streaming subscriber numbers to legitimize their continued existence no matter what critics might say. But whether you're someone who works on these shows or just someone who loves them, there's probably always a part of you that craves a little bit of that awards season spotlight, a little bit of gold that will perhaps push your work that much further into a prominent place in the history of your medium. It happened with Black Panther. With WandaVision, perhaps it can happen again.