If you haven’t heard by now, let me be the first to tell you: Despite being only three months in, Black Panther has become the movie of the year. Directed by Ryan Coogler, this movie covers topics that many will be discussing for years to come, ranging from the discord between Africans and African Americans to what it looks like when black female characters are allowed to be multifaceted. Coogler, along with the Black Panther cast – Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Daniel Kaluyaa as W’kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, and Angela Bassett as Queen Mother – have created a revolutionary film that has become a perfect example of why representation matters.
It goes without saying that one of the biggest reasons representation matters is so that when you see someone like yourself on screen doing something grand, you start to believe you can do that very thing someday. For years, black people have constantly seen themselves portrayed as drug dealers, drug addicts, pimps, whores, slaves, the help, the loud, obnoxious baby mama, and other unsavoury characters. Even within horror movies, black characters would either die first, or die at some point in the movie more so than their white counterparts. But now, with Black Panther, little boys and girls – even grown boys and girls – are seeing that they can live full lives, they can have dynamic characters, and they have the agency over their lives to be whoever or whatever they want to be. For Allegra Frank, the deputy news editor of Polygon, “Black Panther let [her] see herself as a superhero for the first time.” Black Panther let a lot of black people see themselves as superheros for the first time, and that’s why representation matters.
However, this movie isn’t just for black people. Another big benefit that came from Black Panther is the fact that other races finally had the opportunity to see the multifacetedness of black men and women. Black Panther has helped challenge stereotypes that have long held control in the minds of non-black people. Here’s an excerpt from Sixth Tone
—an online publication that produces content on contemporary China— as they talk about their expectations for the movie :
University lecturer and Shanghai resident Marcel Daniels, who has seen the film while abroad, is optimistic that the film will have a positive influence in his adopted country. “I find that a lot of stereotypes in China come from a limited exposure to diversity, so assumptions are made reflexively. Hopefully this film sparks interest in Chinese viewers to learn more about the history, people, and cultures of those from Africa.” [Similarly] Kristen Stanley, the owner of Liaison Luxury Sport and Entertainment Agency in Shanghai, plans to host a “Black Panther”- themed screening on the night of the film’s China release. “The perception of black people around the world is changing and this movie will continue that trend,” she says, adding that three cinema viewings she organized have already sold out completely.
It’s going to take time and a lot of work to undo the damage that racism has wrought. However, if one continues to consider what Africa could have looked like without the effects of colonialism, and then actually works towards that vision, significant and impactful changes on a global scale would be inevitable and that is why representation matters.
In five short weeks, Black Panther has raked in an astounding $1.2 billion worldwide. Hopefully, all executives, producers, directors, and all those responsible for casting, will see this and understand this simple fact: people will pay to see themselves (read: people like them) on the big screen. The economic benefit of this movie alone, is enough of a conversation topic. Many people, especially in the United States, watched it more than once. Theatres were reserved and sold out. Mentors, coaches, and teachers, mobilized and fundraised to pay for students and children in their lives who may not have had the funds to go themselves. When you see a plethora of people get together like so, you start to understand – even a little bit – the importance of representation.
There are so many other reasons why this movie can safely be dubbed the movie of the year, especially in the United States. Amidst the chaos and despair that surrounds the black community in the States at the moment, a movie such as this helps in bringing hope. It has planted the seed within the minds of many black youth of what is possible. And all of this is only the beginning of this new black renaissance.