black excellence by Taysha Silva February 15, 2018
When it comes to hype, there’s nothing that can match a superhero movie — especially a Marvel superhero movie.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which continues to pump out massively successful films, has grossed more than $13.5 billion in profits, and offers a range of compelling, beloved characters such as Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spiderman.
And with a star-studded cast, a fire soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar, and a budget which Marvel boss Kevin Feige says is “equal to and in fact surpass[es] our last couple of movies,” Black Panther is set to be yet another blockbuster sensation. Even before its release February 16, it’s set to break box-office records.
But the significance of Black Panther goes much deeper than box office numbers. It is an important moment for representation and Black excellence in both its storyline and production.
Black Panther is the alter-ego of T’Challa, the protector and chief of the many tribes of Wakanda. Although the outside world believes Wakanda to be a third-world country, it is in fact is a flourishing nation at the height of technological advances, which has, for its own safety, concealed its valuable resource vibranium from outsiders (vibranium is the same metal used in Captain America’s iconic shield).
Black Panther is a force to be reckoned with; the phrase “brains and brawn” would be an understatement. Enhanced with the power of an herb that is poisonous to anyone outside the Wakanda royal bloodline, he possesses superhuman strength, stealth, stamina, and healing capabilities, along with improved sight, hearing, and tracking skills.
Then there’s his top-of-the-line suit and weapons. And (of course) his genius-level intellect and his riches and influence, which crush the likes of Batman and Iron Man.
The existence of Wakanda is, at its core, a commentary on and resistance against aggressive European imperialism and its exploitation of African people and resources.
As Deirdre Hollman, one of the founders of the annual Black Comic Book Festival at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, said, “There’s so much power that’s drawn from the notion that there was a community, a nation that resisted colonization and infiltration and subjugation.”
These concepts play a key role in the central conflict of the film as Black Panther and his allies must face Ulysses Klaw, who wants to seize vibranium, and Erik Killmonger, a Wakanda native who wants to create a new world order.
The promotional trailer hints at these themes when, in a compelling, militant line, Killmonger remarks, “The world’s going to start over… I’ll burn it all!”
A Black Panther movie has been a long time coming. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four in 1966, predating the creation of the Black Panther organization.
Black Panther also predates another black Marvel Hero: Blade, the half-human, half-vampire vampire hunter who first appeared in 1973 in The Tomb of Dracula and later came to life in the 1998 film starring Wesley Snipes.
With the importance and following of Black Panther, Marvel sought out an excellent team to bring the heroic vision to life, including Oakland-born director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed), Californian actors Chadwick Boseman (42 and Get On Up) as T’Challa/Black Panther, and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station and Fantastic Four) as Erik Killmonger, Academy Award-winning Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Nakia, and Zimbabwean-American actress Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead and Mother of George) as Okoye.
In addition, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who has worked on historical films like Selma, worked to create an amazing Afrofuturistic aesthetic. She explained her process in a Slate interview:
“[I] paid homage to the ancient African traditions that are disappearing…I looked at the Surma stick fighters and how the men draped the cloth around their bodies, and I was inspired by that. I looked at the Tuareg people and how they used the beautiful purples and gold and silver. And I looked at the Maasai warriors and infused that red color onto the Dora Milaje [the elite female fighters of Wakanda]”.
Angela Basset, who plays Ramonda (T’Challa’s mother), joyfully remarked at the world premiere that the most special thing about this project was “just seeing all these beautiful, talented black people in one place, this black nation, coming together, technologically advanced, un-colonized with so much swag and brilliance.”
.@ImAngelaBassett on the most special thing about #BlackPanther https://t.co/6Hv5AHzVNH pic.twitter.com/gpcGhVbrAc
— Variety (@Variety) January 30, 2018
Recently, many people have voiced their personal enthusiasm and swelling emotion through #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe.
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe Breaking free of the "comfortable" tropes of sidekicks and sacrifices, soaring into our technological future while honoring history & tradition. Seeing myself and my children's destiny reflected in the empowering mirror of #Afrofuturism. pic.twitter.com/pIqNYJl4KJ
— Tananarive Due (@TananariveDue) February 6, 2018
I cried when it was announced. I cried at the visuals. I cried at the #SDCC Marvel booth.
I cried in joy. Their blackness is mine. My blackness is theirs.
Black Panther is a love letter, a celebration, and a victory march for the diaspora
— I'm In That 5, That 0, To The 4, ya heard me? (@IfIWereMagneto) February 6, 2018
Some state how important it is for kids to see themselves in their heroes to bolster their confidence, self-love, and dreams.
Can you imagine being a little brown child and seeing Black Panther, only to find out that the creators look like you? That the director has the thickest Oakland accent ever? That the production was filled with black people? #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe pic.twitter.com/b3f6dNYKz0
— DJ BenHaMeen (@djbenhameen) February 6, 2018
For their part, kids are hyped. In a viral video, students from Ron Clark Academy celebrate when they are told they will attend a film screening of Black Panther as part of a Black History Month project.
And at a time when President Donald Trump remarks in the Oval Office that immigrants from “shithole” African countries should not be welcomed in our country, the Black Panther, the legacy of Wakanda, and the celebration of Black celebrities shows pride and might.