Black Panther's Lupita Nyong'o Enters The 'Are Marvel Movies Art' Debate

When you're as good at making moola as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, you'd best believe people are going to be questioning your artistic merits, and justly so. After all, if MCU movies and TV shows are going to dominate our daily pop culture discourse (as they have for a while now, with few signs of stopping anytime soon), then we should also be able to talk about their creative strengths and weaknesses.

As simple as this sounds in theory, it's proven much harder to do in practice. When Martin Scorsese lit a figurative molotov cocktail by arguing MCU films are "not cinema" in 2019, the actual point he was making — that MCU movies and other corporate-mandated tentpoles are pushing out more personal films — was quickly lost in the ensuing commotion. Asking actors and other creative types how they feel about the artistry of the MCU and superhero movies at large has since become standard protocol for members of the press, with results that range from thoughtful, nuanced responses to casual trash-talking.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the best takes on this subject have come from artists who divide their time between big studio films and other projects. Case in point: In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter to promote the MCU sequel "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" (where she reprises her role from the first "Black Panther" movie as the Wakandan spy Nakia), Lupita Nyong'o had some excellent food for thought to offer on the whole "Are Marvel Movies Art?" debate.

The privilege of choice

Since winning an Oscar for her role in 2013's "12 Years a Slave," Nyong'o has divided her time between big-budget Disney-backed films (including "Black Panther") and celebrated smaller movies like "Little Monsters," "Us," and "Queen of Katwe." However, lest anyone accuse her of taking a "One for me, one for them" approach to how she chooses her projects, Nyong'o assured THR she believes there can be just as much artistic value to MCU and MCU-level releases as other films:

"It becomes a philosophical question about what is art and what is its purpose. I believe that art plays a role in moving the people that experience it, and a lot of people are moved by Marvel. Is you being moved by this thing less important than me being moved by Picasso?"

At the same time, Nyong'o emphasized that cultural and artistic prosperity is only possible when there's more than one type of art being produced. She likened the situation to her having only two choices of sugar while growing up in Kenya before coming to the U.S. and finding there's "a whole section in the supermarket [that] is dedicated to sugars." In other words, it's vital that the movie industry offer more options going forward, not fewer ones:

"So I personally love a good Marvel movie, but it doesn't take me away from really wanting the little character-driven film. I believe in the fight for those things to be kept alive because the one thing we always want, the ultimate privilege, is choice."

As for how we ensure that happens when it seems like only superhero movies and horror films are doing consistent business at the box office ... well, that's the real question, isn't it?

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opens in theaters on November 11, 2022.