More than a movie

Black Panther's impact beyond the big screen

Black Panther, released less than a week ago on Feb. 16, focuses on the genesis of T’Challa as both the Black Panther and the new king of the fictional country of Wakanda following the death of his father T’Chaka, which the Marvel audience observed in the Avengers movie Captain America: Civil War. The film features a star-studded cast including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Martin Freeman, just to name a few.

The movie follows T’Challa following the events of Civil War as he returns to the isolated but unconquerable, technologically advanced African nation that he calls home.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, when “an old enemy reappears on the radar, T’Challa’s mettle as King and Black Panther is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts the entire fate of Wakanda and the world at risk.”

The eighteenth installment of superhero movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther received immense critical acclaim even before it hit box offices. Many have noted it as the best Marvel film to date, others claiming it to be the most important movie of the year. One thing is for sure: few people have been in opposition to the quality of and content in the movie. For most, this is the movie to see, regardless of race, gender, or age.

In the box office, Black Panther overwhelmed all expectations blowing the predicted opening weekend box office earning out of the water. The film brought in an estimated $192 million over the four-day holiday weekend, the fifth biggest movie opening of all time.

Additionally, Black Panther shattered the record for a February opening that had been held by Deadpool since 2016. For Marvel Studios, it is the second biggest opening, placing behind only The Avengers.

It also surpassed the record for the largest opening for an African-American director, topping F. Gary Gray’s The Fate of the Furious by over $100 million.

For those that said that minorities, especially a black cast, can’t sell as well as a white cast, those involved in Black Panther are proving them all wrong. There’s no question that the film has been financially successful, but Black Panther will go down in the history books for its impact off the big screen.

The list of things director Ryan Coogler attempts to tackle in the film is endless. Identity politics, a social critique of White America and issues of power and privilege are just a few of the complex issues that Black Panther brings to the film screen and, in turn, forces people to discuss. Coogler’s interpretation of a typical superhero flick addresses fault lines in society while still incorporating action movie fundamentals like fight scenes and car chases.

Black Panther features subtle – and not so subtle – digs at historical examples of racism and oppression. Wakanda is an unconquerable nation, and Boseman incorporated that idea into his performance. He used his acting training to create a voice from South African, Kenyan, Ethiopian and other African nationalities rooted in the Xhosa dialect. What was most significant about this accent was that Boseman actually crafted it himself.

“For me, Wakanda has never been conquered,” said Boseman to the Los Angeles Times. “At one time they were thinking he’d have a European accent or an American accent. I said that would not be fine because if we did that, that would be saying that they had been colonized.”

In an interview with CNET, Boseman said, “It’s supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. If it’s supposed to not have been conquered – which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it – then there’s no way he would speak with a European accent.”

Examining the negatives of colonialism was also a theme. Without giving away too much, T’Challa’s cousin, played by Jordan, is essentially stripped of his Wakandan identity unknowingly. Jordan’s character Erik is quick to point out dualistic viewpoints of colonization – for example, Europeans can take an artifact in a siege, but if Erik were to take back what belonged to his people, it would be called theft.

At one point towards the end of the film, Erik utters these words, but you know Jordan is the one saying them: “Bury me in the ocean where my ancestors jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”

The movie bears witness to a host of other significant social issues. Black Panther portrays the normalcy of men having and processing emotions. It shows that women, especially black women, can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than men. In fact, aside from Boseman, the strongest characters in the film – mentally, physically and emotionally – are women. Wakanda is ruled by a humble and emotional king with an all-female guard, the mightiest warriors in the nation. The revolution behind taking every marginalized identity in typical films and making them the center of Black Panther is what allows this film to annihilate its competition.  

But out of all the important themes included in the film, none is more important than the portrayal of a black superhero. Ask the countless students who were able to see the movie thanks to fundraisers across the country. Students were recorded dancing in their classrooms when they received the news. Some children cried.

For the first time, they had the chance to see a superhero on the big screen that looks like them. People say that they are colorblind, but in reality, these children have seen a lack of representation of themselves for years and Black Panther brought an end to that problem.

As one unidentified student told NPR, “It’s different from other movies because it’s like, you can fight for what you believe in, but you can do it in different ways.” For black children, T’Challa and Boseman himself have become role models, showing them that they too can show emotion, fight for what’s right and rule the world – whether they grow up as a prince in an affluent nation or a regular kid on the Oakland streets. Most importantly, the film shows all children, regardless of race, gender or religion, that superheroes come in all colors.

Black Panther represents the beginning of a change both in Hollywood and in society as a whole. Those in the entertainment industry have been told time and time again to be silent on political and societal issues, and people of color have been pushed to the side time and time again. Black Panther says no more.

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