“The World is Changing”: How Marvel’s Black Panther is Evolving Hollywood

You’ve heard your friends talking. You’ve seen the Ellen interviews. You’ve heard the Kendrick feat. SZA track. And you wonder, is Black Panther really worth the hype? The answer is yes, Black Panther really is that good. The film boasts the catchiest soundtrack, Oscar-worthy visual effects, and a cast hot enough to intimidate the Justice League.

Being the faultless and basically perfect girlfriend I am, I bought tickets for my man and I to see this new Marvel hit on his birthday. He’s a huge comic book junkie and has dragged me to a number of superhero movies (including Ant-Man; yes, it’s what it sounds like and yeah, don’t waste your time). I usually hit the snooze button during comic book-based movies (unless it involves a scantily-clad Aquaman; I’m talkin’ to you, Jason Momoa) but this time, I was hyped to see Black Panther because of its killer opening weekend and next-level reviews.

I was not disappointed. For a blissful 2 hours and 15 minutes, I sat in a plush VIP seat, gnawing away on handfuls of buttery popcorn, with a happy boyfriend to my right and my other boyfriend (King T’Challa , duh) onscreen taking down bad guys. I left the theatre a changed woman. I had Kendrick Lamar’s beats and Okoye’s battle cries pulsing through me; my inner warrior goddess was awakened.

I’m not alone in my feelings of admiration. Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler) has a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the highest-rated Marvel film of all time) and is the highest grossing film by a black director in history, earning $242 million in North America on its opening weekend. But the real reason for Black Panther’s success is its groundbreaking severance from the Marvel tradition of white-male-dominated films.

         (Me trying to tolerate other Marvel movies)

Black Panther is the story of King T’Challa​ (Chadwick Boseman) as he rules over the mythic African nation of “Wakanda” (which holds the world’s supply of the most powerful material, “vibranium”). T’Challa​’s reign is threatened as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) attempts to steal the crown to take on the powers of the Black Panther. While the film’s plot follows the typical superhero movie arc, it does so with a progressive spin that is both original and empowering.

Superhero movies aren’t known for being diverse. Thor? Visibly aryan. Captain America? White AF. Comic book adaptations endorse Hollywood’s caucasian-invasion and as a result, racialized individuals are generally only seen in subordinate roles. In Black Panther, this construct is flipped on its blonde head. Not only is the hero and protagonist Black, but so is the dynamic supporting cast. The few non-African characters are portrayed as outsiders and take on the previously-racialized static roles, which reverses the “white gaze.”

The women of Black Panther dominate on screen, featuring an all-female Wakandan army that could give T-Swift’s girl squad a run for their money. T’Challa​’s ex-lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong-o), is sensitive yet strong and Okoye (the leader of the Wakanda army) is patriotic and powerful. Arguably, the breakout star of the film is Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa​’s younger sister and Wakanda’s technology guru (named by Marvel Studies as the smartest character in their cinematic universe). Intelligent and defiant, Shuri helps protect her nation with both her mental and physical combat skills. As well, Shuri complaining about having “another white boy to fix” is all too relatable. The many high-profile women in the crew also deserve recognition, including cinematographer Rachel Morrison, production designer Hannah Beachler, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Ugh, this movie just got me so psyched about kickass women in Hollywood.

And if you still aren’t convinced to see this flick, I mean, there’s Michael B. Jordan…

‘Nuff said.

You don’t have to be a Marvel fan to see Black Panther. You can be merely a gal (or guy) looking to see a dope futuristic action film that challenges representations of Black individuals and women in Hollywood. And trust me, you won’t want to miss Shuri’s recreation of the “what are those” vine.

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