There can only be one winner, but each of the Best Picture nominees overcame creative, financial and logistical hurdles to get this close to the finish line. Here are their war stories.Related Producers Guild Awards: 'Green Book' Takes Best Picture; 'Americans' & 'Mrs. Maisel' Lead TV - Winners List
Fifty years ago, the phrase ‘Black Panther’ carried more political baggage than it does today, immediately summoning up images of a militant African-American revolutionary, named after by the controversial civil rights party founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, in 1966. Created by Stan Lee in a bid to deliver the world’s first non-stereotype black superhero, the comic book of the same name materialized around the same time. Unusually, The Black Panther wasn’t an alter ego—it was the formal title for T’Challa, King of Wakanda—but Lee described the overlapping of names as “a strange coincidence”, adding that “maybe if I had it to do over again, I’d have given him another name”. The sensitive politics of the next two decades might explain why the character lay dormant as a movie property until 1992, when Wesley Snipes began work on the concept, eventually securing support from Columbia in 1994.
Directors John Singleton and Mario Van Peebles showed interest, but the project stalled, only to be resurrected by Marvel Studios in 2005, when then-CEO Avi Arad announced it as one of ten new films on the company’s slate. This time development moved forward at a faster pace: a script was commissioned in 2011, and by 2013, elements of the story began to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the character, played by Chadwick Boseman, debuting in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Ava DuVernay was briefly attached, then F. Gary Gray, and finally Creed director Ryan Coogler agreed to take the helm. Marvel President Kevin Feige acknowledges that it was a slow but sure process, and defends the timescale. “The only way we ever wanted to do this project was the right way,” he says, “and that meant finding a filmmaker who had something personal to say, who had a vision and could take this character into another arena, and showcase the power of representation on a canvas of this size.” —Damon Wise
When Jordan Peele pitched Spike Lee on the story that would become BlacKkKlansman, and lead to the iconic filmmaker’s first Oscar nomination for directing, Lee was sure he was making it up. “It was one of the greatest pitches ever,” Lee recalls. “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan. That’s high concept. I said, ‘I’ve seen this a million times, it’s the Dave Chappelle skit.’ He went, ‘Nah, nah, this is real.’”
And real it is, even though Lee’s film bends the truth here and there to offer an engine to a story that seizes on the rhetorical parallels with the violence in Charlottesville last year, takes a sideways glance at the legacy of DW Griffith and Gone with the Wind, and revels in its 1970s setting to play on the tropes of Blaxploitation movies. Ron Stallworth, a black police officer in Colorado Springs, really did infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. And really did interact with one-time Grand Wizard David Duke.
Lee turned to an old collaborator to play Stallworth. John David Washington was six years old when he was given a line in Lee’s Malcolm X. Reunited for BlacKkKlansman, Lee kept Washington away from the real Stallworth until the table read, determined that he find his own version of the character in prep. “It was my thinking that he would meet Ron and want to walk like him, talk like him,” Lee says. “It wasn’t like Malcolm X. No one knew who Ron Stallworth was, and that gives you freedom.”