EDITORIAL – Last week was a momentous week. Marvel and Walt Disney’s Black Panther made its debut in cinemas worldwide and grossed a record smashing $426.6 million globally. That’s the biggest February opening week ever. The biggest solo superhero movie launch, the biggest US holiday movie opening; bigger than the $200m opening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009 and the biggest non-sequel launch of all time. A truly astonishing feat.
Way back in 1966, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Black Panther, the first black superhero, it would have been unimaginable that there would ever be a movie that would so viscerally and unapologetically celebrate black culture. 1966 was a time when it was still correct for black people to be referred to as “negroes”.
1966 was a time when the Civil rights movement was still very much fighting for the rights of oppressed African Americans and for the very right for them to be considered equal; never mind playing a lead role in a movie directed by a black man with a predominantly black cast. Nevertheless it is still worth noting that Black Panther did not show up on the big screen until 50 years after the first comic was made.
Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda – the richest and most technologically advanced civilization on Earth.
He also moonlights as the Black Panther, a warrior energized by the heart shaped herb with superhuman powers that he uses to protect his nation and his people. As the Black Panther, embodies the brilliant balance of a king charting his path as a man and the path of his nation within the world. Now, after a decade of Marvel Universe films starring a demographically disproportionate number of white actors and character based plots, the world finally has its first African superhero movie. “It’s a sea-change moment,” Boseman says. “I still remember the excitement people had seeing Malcolm X. And this is greater, because it includes other people, too. Everybody comes to see the Marvel movie.” This movies brings all variants of black people together; from African Americans, those in the Caribbean, Africans in the diaspora and Africans on the home continent of Africa.
Black Panther is indeed a present and future success but perhaps most importantly, it is a watershed moment for black actors and the Hollywood industry. The cast is an assembly of pure acting talent – in addition to Boseman and Michael B. Jordan (as the effervescent and complex villain- Killmonger), there’s Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and several actors of immediate African descent, including Star Wars’ Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya), The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe) and Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya (Uganda).
Black Panther has seen a massive surge of support from a community of people who have been under represented in the big budget movies. It has energized black youth who see a big budget movie that is unashamedly and proudly African in its inspiration. It is a movie of groundbreaking firsts; a superhero movie with a predominantly black cast, a black director, black writers, black costume and production designers, and a black executive producer.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that a movie like Black Panther is achieving such volume of success, but yet somehow in 2018, this is still a surprise. It’s unfortunate that it took this long to be made, as Hollywood may have finally figured out the value of movies that do not have a white actor cast as the lead actor. Diversity in cinema will attract greater number of fans. Still, when black movie stars have gotten opportunities, be it something like I am Legend, Independence Day, Rush Hour 2 and more recently Girls Trip, fans have shown up in relatively large numbers. Hollywood must simply accept the new representative future of film; now they have seen the success of a predominantly black cast movie, perhaps the prejudices and reluctance against creating such movies will now be laid to rest.
But this isn’t just a blow to conventional wisdom about minority-led blockbusters, it’s a blow to conventional wisdom concerning the Marvel Universe. One of their more outside-the-box offerings, one of their most director-driven films and one of their most overtly political pictures yet, one that plays more like a drama than an action spectacular, is now on pace to be one of their very biggest movies. Playing it safe is no longer the safe choice.
A reflection of the impact of this movies is the large scale engagement that it has received on social media platforms such as; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags such as #BlackPanther, #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe and #WakandaForever have been trending with eager discussions about the movie. Also, numerous references and meme’s from the movie are already becoming commonplace on social media. Community groups are renting out whole theaters to screen it; people are running crowd-funding campaigns to buy tickets for black kids who might not be able to see it otherwise.
Whilst it is true that Black Panther is a superhero movie from the Marvel Universe, it is so much more than that. It has brought so much joy and expression; allowed for the underrepresented to feel represented and see themselves on the big screen. Black Panther allows young black children will know a superhero that isn’t white and see location settings in a Marvel Universe blockbuster that are strongly and beautifully African. The revolution is here, it is being televised and it is here to stay! Wakanda Forever!
By: Oyin Ogunkanmi
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