Hollywood is not ready to see a black man succeed as a ruler. If you go back and look at the history of black presidents in movies, you’ll notice that most of the time they are only in power during an earth shattering event. (Tiny “Deebo” Lister in The Fifth Element, Danny Glover in 2012, Jamie Foxx in White House Down.) According to the laws of movies, the world being run by a black man (or a woman, in the case of 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence) will doom us all, due to the giant glaring weakness that is the ethnicity or gender of the Leader of the Free World.
Now, of course this is an over-dramatization of the fact, seeing as there have been plenty of Caucasian male leaders in charge during movie apocalypses. But for some reason, Hollywood sees the appointing of someone who doesn’t match the cultural stereotype of the President as an event so abnormal that the only logic response is aliens raining down from the cosmos. But Marvel Studios seeks to change all that with the 2018 release of Black Panther, the story of a warrior prince being thrusted into kingship while dealing with the economic and cultural shifts in his country, as well as the death of his father. And even if you’re not familiar with the comics, as a person of color, you NEED to plan to see this movie.
Marvel Studios shook up the comic book movie genre by announcing the appearance of Black Panther for Captain America: Civil War after debuting his native country of Wakanda in full during Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now for those of you who don’t know much about him, here’s the rundown based on the comics.
- T’Challa is king of Wakanda, a landlocked isolated African nation that has never been conquered or influenced by outside European or American forces.
- Wakanda is a pillar of science and technology, thanks to a meteor that struck the country years ago and provided them with a precious metal called Vibranium.
- In addition to being the king, T’Challa is also the Black Panther, a rank that sees him eat a magic shrub and don a Vibranium infused suit to imbue in him enhanced strength, speed, agility, stamina and healing.
- In addition to being trained in various forms of martial arts and gymnastics, he holds a PhD from Oxford University, is a genius in physics and engineering and is considered one of the eight smartest people in the Marvel Universe.
Based on the character’s description alone, you think you’d be interested right? Well, it gets better. The Walt Disney Company, who runs Marvel Studios, have gone out of their way to make sure this film is not only true to the character, but is also an excellent representation of the people involved with it. The studio doubled down by not only hiring up-and-coming visionary director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) to co-write and direct the movie, but also casted a slew of Black Hollywood’s top acts. The film will see Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up!) reprising his role as T’Challa, while being joined by well-known actors such as Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker. The casting decisions made waves throughout social media, as this is one of the few multimillion-dollar movies to support a cast and crew that is made up of 80% African-American people.
With all those things considered, there is a portion of the population upset with the mainstream popularity of the movie, saying it diminished the impact of early back superhero movies like Blade, Blankman, and Spawn. And while these movies did contribute to the overall success of the black superhero, they were usually done in a humorous or anti-hero like fashion. For one of the few times in cinematic history, indigenous African people will be shown as an utopian society consisting of intelligent and able-bodied warriors and scientists, rather than the derogatory image of savages history has chosen to view them as. If fact, Marvel dealt with this problem developing their story, as there is a character in the lore named M’Baku, or as he is more commonly known, “Man-Ape.” Executive producer Nate Moore touched on the subject with Entertainment Weekly, stating, “Having a black character dress up as an ape, I think there’s a lot of racial implications that don’t sit well, if done wrong. But the idea that they worship the gorilla gods is interesting because it’s a movie about the Black Panther who, himself, is a sort of deity in his own right.”
So yes, there have been movies about black superheroes. And yes, there have been movies about African kings and queens. But has there ever been a film that at its core promotes and uplifts the culture of traditional African culture, while at the same time giving young black children a superhero to look up to? A hero who stands atop the mountain of heroes alongside as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America as an EQUAL?
No, Coming to America doesn’t count. (Although, Eddie Murphy as “Axel Foley” from Beverly Hills Cop was somewhat super for a black cop in Detroit during the 80’s. But that’s another argument for another day.)
Black Panther is an upcoming American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is intended to be the eighteenth film installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by Ryan Coogler from a screenplay by him and Joe Robert Cole, and stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther alongside Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. In Black Panther, T’Challa returns home as king of Wakanda but finds his sovereignty challenged by a long-time adversary in a conflict that has global consequences. Black Panther releases on February 16, 2018 in theatres.