Why Marvel’s Black Panther matters
Diversity and representation were keywords in Hollywood in 2017. After #OscarSoWhite, exposed how Caucasians dominated lead roles and award considerations; the Sony email hack of 2014 revealed the prejudice of studio executives toward black leads in tent pole films; the rest of the world discovered what most people of colour (PoC) in the film business already knew.
It’s a system which doesn’t recognize or acknowledge their efforts, largely dismissive and restricts their opportunities. Even a star critically and commercially acclaimed as Denzel, didn’t escape their disdain. Studio Execs make the claim, films with black leads/cast don’t make money outside of the US, thus why they aren’t cast as leads in blockbusters. These and other factors are why the upcoming Black Panther is critical to a lot of Black people and maybe even the future of Black Hollywood.
The Black Panther first appeared in issue #52 of Fantastic Four Vol 1966. He (T’Challa) is the heir to the centuries-old ruling dynasty of the fictional African Kingdom and ritual leader of its Panther Clan. Wakanda is a high tech wonderland, far advanced than any country in the known world. King T’Challa, aka The Black Panther is guarded by the Dora Milaje (adored ones), highly skilled all female bodyguards, led by Okoye.
Black Panther was arguably the biggest highlight of 2016’s Captain America Civil war, where he made his live action debut, preparing the fans for his solo movie. As of this writing, it holds the record for highest advanced ticket sales of any Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie.The release of Superman: The Movie (1978) birthed the comic book movie. Marvel and DC saw the profits and churned out films starring their A-list characters with numerous; Batman, Superman, Spiderman and X-men live action movies; these character are all white, which weren’t representative of their ethnically diverse fan base. For the record, pre MCU, there were two films with black leads, Blade (1998) and Spawn (1997); the former, a half vampire and the latter sold his soul to the devil for revenge. Not exactly the role models black parents wanted for their children.
For many comic book fans, some who’ve followed the character since his 1966 debut, this is the biggest movie of a character who shares their shade of melanin. A character who comes from royalty, is one of the most intelligent people in all of comic book universe; a warrior, strategist, scientist and global leader, there is a lot to admire about T’Challa. One can only imagine what comic con San Diego saw, 2018 henceforth, as Black fans who previously dressed up as their favourite Caucasian hero, can now dress up as a Wakandan King or a member of the Dora Milaje.
While War Machine, Nick Fury and The Falcon and other black characters, have been part of the MCU, they were surrounded by an all-white cast. Black Panther is the first with a predominantly black cast and the first with black director (he’s 31) who also co-wrote the screenplay. You’re probably asking, “Why does this matter to Nigerians or African Filmmakers?”
First there are numerous African actors in the cast; South Africa’s John Kani as T’Chaka (who made sure isiXhosa was spoken accurately), Issac DeBankole (Ivory Coast), Lupita Nyongo (Kenya), Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe), Florence Kasumba (Uganda), Sope Aluko (Nigeria), and others in its cast list . Second, the success of this film globally is another step in shattering the excuse that, black films don’t travel and films with black leads don’t make money. It would show there is a global market for Black-led films, and could possibly lead to Hollywood collaborations with Nollywood and African Filmmakers, financing deals, same way they included Chinese stars once they realized China was a profitable market.
There’s a subconscious power in a mainstream movie, portraying Africans/Black people as technologically advanced and some of the smartest people on the planet; a stark contrast to dominant disempowering images by Western cable news. Imagine the impact on young girls, who’ve been fed images of black women as helpless victims and video vixens for decades; seeing the Dora Milaje and realizing they can be strong and capable, or see Shuri the gadget mistress & realize they can be brilliant scientists, engineers and inventors.
Anthony Mackie who plays The Falcon in three of the MCU movies says this about representation, “Giving kids reflective of their experiences is important. Treating those heroes with the same level of respect to the story as the Captain Americas and Iron Men of this world, is really important”Speaking with the BBC World service recently about the film, I understand Mackie’s words even more.
With advanced screenings on the 14th and a February 16th release, the financial success of this film could be a massive game changer in how films with black ensemble are financed, marketed and distributed globally. So, for the culture, show your support and go see this film when it comes out. I’ll be watching it at the biggest screen I can find, the IMAX.
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