BY JAHIYA CLARK ’20
Audiences across the nation had high expectations for the premiere of one the most anticipated Marvel films in years, “Black Panther.” Showing support by cosplaying as citizens of Wakanda or as African royalty á la Eddy Murphy’s “Coming to America,” audience members were not disappointed. While the film has been a box office success — according to Box Office Mojo the film has grossed over $462 million worldwide since its opening on Feb. 16 — “Black Panther” has also been a cultural success by --pushing the boundaries of how black people appear on screen. The Afrofuturistic film provides a new perspective that shows black people not in relation to crime or slavery, but as black superheroes and black excellence.
“Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) continues where “Captain America: Civil War” left off, with the beginning of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman, “42”) reign over Wakanda, a Central African country with highly advanced technology. To the rest of the world Wakanda is a poor developing nation, but in actuality the country is powered by the fictional space metal Vibranium. The Vibranium also gives the Black Panther his strength, speed and heightened senses.
King T’Challa faces more than just a threat to his throne in the form of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, “Creed”), an African-American mercenary. Killmonger is outraged by the current state of black people worldwide and Wakanda’s blatant disregard of the hardships beyond their borders. He decides to challenge T’Challa for the crown and title of King.
This poses the question: Is Killmonger really a villain for taking a stand against our obvious hero?
Viewers might not think so. Killmonger wants to see the wrongs done to an entire race and its people made right. He doesn’t want to destroy the world, he wants to remake it. The pursuit of world domination is usually a trait associated with villains, but Killmonger just wants the world to be better for black people.
King T’Challa understands Killmonger’s point of view yet believes that, as a king, his only duty is to protect his country — even as a superhero, his first priority is the safety of Wakanda. This dichotomy is unique to the Black Panther, as a majority of superheroes do not hold serve as heads of state.
This movie is significant as it premieres during a time when the film industry is struggling with diversity. “Black Panther” features not only a predominantly black cast, but also strong female characters with T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”) — who works as a spy and helps stop human trafficking — and T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright, “Urban Hymn”) — who is not just the smartest person in Wakanda, but the entire Marvel Universe. Every character in the film has a strong, admirable presence, making it hard to choose a favorite.
“Black Panther” also features diversity behind-the-scenes with black people working in the majority of creative roles. The multi-award winning artist Kendrick Lamar executively produced the film’s soundtrack, which features upcoming artists from 2 Chainz and SZA to Jorja Smith and Khalid.
A film that features and is created by black people is something that does not often occur in mainstream media. “Black Panther” is paving the way for the creation of similar films that have diverse casting and writing.