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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 January 2019

Oprah Winfrey backs 'Black Panther' for Best Picture Oscar

Star endorses film at private LA screening for Academy members

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Oprah Winfrey attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' at BFI IMAX on March 13, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/John Phillips/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Oprah Winfrey attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' at BFI IMAX on March 13, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/John Phillips/Getty Images)

Whether you’re an election candidate, an author, or a movie in the hunt for an Oscar, there are few endorsements that carry more weight in US society than that of chat show host-cum-national treasure Oprah Winfrey. The star’s credibility and following allows her to mobilise the masses in a way that politicians can only dream of, and she’s just thrown her weight behind Marvel’s Black Panther for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

The film has been widely praised as the first super hero movie to feature a majority black cast, and for its positive portrayals of its black characters. Winfrey told an audience of 100 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at a special pre-Oscar screening of the film at Los Angeles’ London West Hollywood Hotel: "I just wanted to say that when I first saw Black Panther, I sent an email to my friend Bobby and said, 'Hi Bobby! Just saw it. It's worth everything I've heard and more. A phenomenon in every way, on every level. Makes me tear up to think that little black children will grow up with ‘Wakanda forever.’ It's game-changing, it's pride-making, it's dazzling, it's phenomenal.' That was my personal review."

Winfrey continued: "I also know that throngs and throngs and so many people came, and came with their families, and then they went back and they got more family members, and then they went back and told their co-workers and their friends, because everybody recognized that something bigger than a movie was happening up on that screen. We all knew — those of us who have come from the culture and the history — how lit it was. It just gave us life! It gave us life! But it was so affirming for everyone who saw it because you knew that it was bigger than this moment — it was a cultural happening — and just to be in the theatre was to be a part of all of that."

It's worth noting that with almost 8,000 Academy members eligible to cast their vote in the poll, Oprah’s LA audience represents barely one per cent of the total electorate, though word of mouth surely can’t hurt the film’s chances.

If Black Panther were to pick up the award next March, it would represent a watershed Oscars moment. A super hero movie has never picked up a Best Picture award, and The Academy even created a new category of award for “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” in August, which many suspected was largely to ensure the film’s cultural significance was recognised given comic book movies’ traditional poor performance at the awards, although it withdrew the new award the following month following controversy among members and the wider cinema-going public.

The Oscar winners will be announced on Monday, February 25 from 5am Gulf Standard Time.

Updated: December 21, 2018 03:16 PM

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