Sometimes movies are just movies. We go to the theater, get transported to a fantastical world for 2 hours, and then go home and go on with our everyday lives. However, every once in a while, a movie comes along that has significance beyond the plot playing out onscreen.
Black Panther, the latest superhero saga in the Marvel Studios megaverse, is one of those films. As a film, Black Panther is just like every other Marvel superhero movie.
It follows a formulaic plot and cookie cutter characters, features beautifully choreographed fight sequences, sprinkles in just the right amount of humor, and includes cheeky nods to other works within the Marvel Universe.
This isn’t to say it isn’t a good movie. Black Panther is masterfully executed by director Ryan Coogler, who is quickly becoming one of the hottest young directors in Hollywood. It also features a (mostly Black) All-Star cast, with too many awards and accolades amongst them to list.
So what makes Black Panther so special? This isn’t the first bomb movie to be directed by a Black person and feature a mostly Black cast. We’ve had plenty of those and we’ll have plenty more going forward.
Black Panther‘s significance stems from its size and scope. With the exception of maybe Star Wars, the Marvel universe is easily the biggest franchise in cinema right now. Since Iron Man was released in 2008, year after year they’ve given us some of the most fun and memorable movie moments in recent history. Now, a decade later, they’ve completely changed the game.
For far too long, young African-American moviegoers have watched people on the big screen who look nothing like them save the day. Time after time, these same moviegoers have been forced to relate to characters that they cannot fully identify with.
These same moviegoers have rarely had the opportunity to see people like them appear on screens not as thugs and criminals or the occasional athlete and rapper.
Now, with Black Panther, those disenfranchised Marvel fans finally have a hero to look up to who actually looks like them. Not only does the lead character look like them, but so does much of the surrounding cast.
This notion goes the other way as well. Black Panther isn’t just a movie for woke audiences. It’s a movie for everyone. Marvel fans from all backgrounds have been hitting theaters in waves to show support for the newest Marvel superstar.
And they too have the pleasure of identifying with a hero who does not resemble the other heroes from the past films.
The cultural significance of Black Panther does not stop there though. This movie represents a widespread shift that has been happening in American culture. At this point, it is pretty hard to argue the influence that African-American culture has on the nation as a whole.
Hip-hop, which was once seen as a passing fad, is now the most popular and influential music genre. More people are listening to hip-hop and R&B than rock and traditional pop. This shift has already been recognized by Grammys, with 4 of 5 best album nominees being hip-hop or R&B artists.
Among them was Kendrick Lamar, who is arguably the most popular name in music at the moment. If you’re looking to make a worldwide blockbuster, it doesn’t hurt to have that guy in charge of your soundtrack (it’s fire by the way).
Music isn’t the only place where this shift is happening. The world of fashion has been heavily influenced by Black voices. Additionally, many of our country’s most beloved athletes are African-American players in both the NFL and NBA.
Now, Black Panther has shown us that that shift in influence is also being felt in film. Two of the most beloved and critically acclaimed films in the last two years have been indie projects about the experience of being Black in America (Moonlight and Get Out).
Both are extremely well made and undeniably important films, but neither one was able to achieve what Black Panther is accomplishing this year.
Black Panther is a masterfully-crafted, big budget, worldwide phenomenon. We usually refer to movies like this as blockbusters. However, in the case of Black Panther, it only feels right to call this one a “Blackbuster.”
I don’t see this trend ending here. I think the early success that this movie has achieved and its assumed continued success will usher in a new cinematic trend.
We will begin to see more movies where diverse characters of all kinds will dominate the big screens in ways that only straight white males have had the luxury of inhabiting for far too long.
With all that being said, on behalf of marginalized moviegoers everywhere, we thank you Black Panther for opening the door to a brighter and more inclusive moviegoing tomorrow.