Over a year ago, word hit social media that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was releasing Black Panther, a movie based on the comic book series of the same name. Immediately, the Internet took notice and the countdown began. We are going to be given the story of a Black superhero, a unique occurrence indeed. I’ve been around for a while, and the only Black superhero movies that I can remember are Meteor Man, Blankman, and Shazam. I would have added Blade to my list, but then you might’ve thought that I take my list seriously, which I don’t. You shouldn’t either, and that’s because other than Blade, which is a movie about a superhero vampire that happens to be Black, every other Black superhero movie has been a farce, a bunch of comedies that weren’t even good comedies. Actually, Black Dynamite was a good comedy, but he was much more LA pimp than Marvel superhero.
Black Panther is different. The title character is a real superhero straight from the same comic book era that all of our great superheroes come from. He has the distinctive costume and the underlying motif (the Black Panther suit). He has the base of operations (a fictitious African nation called Wakanda), and even has the death of a parent (his father, T’Challa, was killed in the last Captain America movie). He has every characteristic necessary to be classified as a real Marvel superhero. The production of this film meant that viewers would get the opportunity to witness a virtually all-Black cast complete with the African aesthetic that the storyline offers. T’Challa is the new King of Wakanda after the death of his father. Being the king also means that he is the protector of the country, the Black Panther, as part of the Wakandan tradition.The movie comes out next week, but is already breaking records. The movie broke Fandango’s presale ticket record within the first 24 hours. The movie has already grossed close to $150 million, which places it atop every other superhero movie to have ever come out with regards to presales. A movie about a Black king and superhero, opening in February during Black History Month, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ryan Coogler, makes this much more than just a movie. This is a cultural event, a cinematic milestone to be celebrated.
There will be many think pieces written about this movie, obtuse discussions about whether or not it is actually a Black film, articles that call for the boycott of the movie, calling it a racist movie because there is no white panther. People will question every aspect of the film over the coming months for one simple reason. The reaction from the Black community to being able to get the chance to see Black people on screen in roles of superiority has been so powerful that it has unnerved the entire industry with regards to what Blacks want to see. Ironically, this energy surrounding the movie harkens back to the days when movies like “Cleopatra Jones”, “Coffy” and “Shaft” energized an entire section of young Blacks to flock to the movies in the 70’s, excited to see examples of themselves that they could relate to. T’Challa is the culmination of everything that Pam Grier and Richard Roundtree represented with their characters, realized, confirmed and taken to the next level. We aren’t only able to fight the man in our streets, we can fight the man globally, universally at every level necessary. It is a subtle realization of the “Hope and Change” the Obama Presidency proved for us. Actually, Obama is T’Challa’s predecessor, a Black man powerful enough to accept the challenge of battling evil at the highest level. So, next week many will don their most elaborate African fabrics and they will go to the movies to watch “Black Panther”. It is going to be some sight, I’m sure. And the occasion should be celebrated, because this is an opportunity for us to define ourselves by supporting images that hold us in the highest esteem, and not those that confine us to stereotypical proportions. There are many in our nation that have never been accessed to multicultural diversity. They’ve never had Black friends, never been in a Black household. All they know of us is what they gather from television and the movies. “Black Panther” will change what they previously thought of the Black experience. Long live Wakanda!