It’s taken about 20 years of waiting, but with the start of 2018, Marvel Comic Studios finally debuted its first Black superhero movie with the release Black Panther – and it’s a game-changer.
Based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s 1966 comic, which was originally created as a bid to offer black readers a character to identify with, and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film is a long overdue celebration of African heroes and culture at a time that some would argue is more crucial than ever.
The film contains a storyline that is very purposeful in how they present their representation of the culture. “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. In an article by the New York Times she notes how the characters in the films are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology, saying “we’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty.”
What most movie markers miss the mark on isn’t with incorporating representations of Black Americans, but with how those black characters are represented. Usually when we see a black character in film they aren’t presented in leading roles. Often in TV and film, African-American people are the most stereotyped and shown in disparaging ways. However, like Broadnax says, Black Panther is different.
First, we finally get to see a new, re-imagined world that explores the existence of black people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) beyond America. It presents a different picture that gives a platform for a cast of characters who are yes, Black, but also much more than that.
This Black Panther or T’Challa is accessible, inspiring and perhaps most importantly, human. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler recently told Rolling Stone in an article back in early February:“I think the question that I’m trying to ask and answer in Black Panther is ‘What does truly mean to be African?’ The MCU has set itself in the real world as much as possible – so what does it mean for T’Challa to move around as this black man in a movie reality that tries to be a real world?”
There’s no doubt that this movie is monumental; it gives a generation of young people a character that they can identify with. It all goes back to the fact that this movie nails it when it comes to black representation.
One of the stars of the movie, Michael B. Jordan, told Cosmopolitan that “pretending to be characters that look nothing like me, honestly, for the next generation being able to see themselves in positions of power, royalty, strength, powerful women, strong characters, smart, intelligent, I think that’s extremely important.” He also continued on to say “(A) sense of identity, sense of culture, sense of who you are and your heritage. I’m not just talking about Africans or African-Americans, I’m talking about everybody.”
Another element of the movie that tells a different story in how it represents the country of Africa. In mainstream media, it’s a country that is known as underdeveloped, riddled with poverty and disease. However in the film, the fictional country of Wakanda is a flourishing nation that has surpassed other nations in technology.
The movie also does an excellent job in putting the female character at the center of the storyline. The Dora Milaje, the all-female personal guards of the Black Panther, represent strength and power and are definitely a shift from the typical female Marvel heroes who are often kept in the sidelines. As well as with T’Challa’s sister, who is the lead scientist who creates the Black Panther suit, which is a pretty big deal considering women in STEM, especially black women, isn’t something you see represented in film everyday.
I think what this movie really comes down to is that is an opportunity to tell new and different stories on screen. For so long we were fed the same storylines containing the same archetypes played by the same type of people. Black Panther stems away from the media norm, and presents a innovative and inspirational story that casts new faces that are taking the screen by storm. Black Panther has created a new platform of representation for black people and can inspire those who may not even identity as black.