The Cultural Significance and Success of Black Panther


Image courtesy of Google Images

Kayla Mason, Staff Writer

Issues of representation in the media have taken the world by storm in recent years. In the past, and even in the present, movies have been dominated by white males. This is in part because prejudice against different groups of people was more widely accepted in the past. In decades old films, it’d be difficult to find any semblance of an African American or Hispanic hero who is not treated as a stereotype, a slave, seen as lesser than others, or is played for laughs. Today, there is undeniably still racism and sexism in the world, but society and the public overall have become a lot more accepting of all minorities. This opens the door for Hollywood to create new and creative stories that will reach out to a larger demographic and provide variety and representation for those who were denied it in the past.  

Is there a more significant figure in today’s world to kids, or adults, than a superhero? While characters like Katniss Everdeen or Cinderella are known worldwide, there is a certain aura about someone like Superman that exudes the best in humanity. His story and appearance are instilled into the human mind at a young age. He’s not the only superhero with a claim to fame; characters like Batman and Spiderman are equally famous and beloved across the globe. Before this century, these were the only superheroes that garnered immense attention and could have their stories retold by anyone at the drop of a hat.  

However, since 2008, Marvel, a company now bought by Disney, has been bringing B-list and C-list superheroes to the big screen and making them household names. For the last decade, Marvel has revolutionized film by creating their own cinematic universe, allowing their growing number of superheroes to interact, grow, and fight together in a way that appeases fans and tests their creativity. Characters like Iron Man or Captain America were little known before Marvel created their movies, but now they have reached levels of popularity where they can be mentioned in the same breath as Batman or Superman. Marvel’s success is unprecedented, and they have become critical darlings as of late, with almost all of their films receiving universal high praise.  

Though the love for Marvel has been fairly unanimous, they have received complaints of a lack of representation in their films. Almost every single one of their films is centered around a white male, with supporting characters adding a splash of color to their relatively bland palate. Some of this is not their fault. The comics their movies are based on are older, so they star white characters. African American comic book heroes like The Falcon and War Machine have been pushed to the side as supporting roles in Marvel’s films. Their status worldwide shifts into a category of relative disregard, and people across the globe have voiced distaste for these two widely unknown side characters to be the only black heroes in Marvel’s superhero universe 

These conditions set the stage perfectly for Marvel’s Black PantherThe film sports an entirely African American cast with a wide range of personalities and talents to create a superhero film never seen before. The titular character T’Challasuperhero alias the Black Panther, was initially introduced in Marvel’s spectacle Captain America: Civil War. His presence impressed audiences and built hype for the inevitable upcoming Black Panther film all the way back in 2016. Today, in 2018, the movie has swept up quite a storm. Prior to its release, online campaigns were founded to help buy tickets to those who can’t afford them. Schools, particularly those with heavy African American populations, organized field trips to go see this to-be icon in the film-making industry. Before the movie was even released, the worldwide general consensus was that it was an absolute must-see. Often, people hyping themselves up for a movie only leads to massive disappointment. However, Black Panther managed to not only live up to the hype, but to succeed it.  

With a 96% Fresh rating and an 8.2 average score on Rotton Tomatoes, Black Panther possesses not only the highest score of any marvel film, but also of any superhero film of all time. Its closest competitor is DC’s breakout hit Wonder Woman. Black Panther shattered all expectations about its office success. Early predictions speculated it would rake in somewhere in between 100-120 million dollars its opening weekendIn reality, the film wound up making $235 million domestically, and 404 million internationally. The fact that a superhero film about the Black Panther, a character that most had never even heard of 5 years ago, outgrossed the opening week DC’s Justice League, a film filled to the brim with legendary characters, is absolutely mind-boggling. On top of that, Black Panther joins cinematic icons like Jurassic World and the latest Star Wars movies “The Last Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” in the top 5 highest grossing opening weekends of all time. 

After seeing the movie, the general public exploded with praise for the movie. The almost entirely African American cast has been met with unbelievable positivity, and it arguably sports the strongest supporting cast to ever grace the big screen in a superhero movie. Black Panther‘s depiction of women in particular has caused quite a stir. Between teenage genius, and hilariously immature, sister Shuri, warrior Okoye, and stereotype-defying love interest Nakia, the film crafts a variety of interesting, strong female characters. This is unheard of comic book movies, and a welcome surprise. Beyond that, the protagonist, T’Challa, and the antagonist, Kilmonger, elicit sympathy from viewers and make excellent emotional centerpieces for a film with an already interesting story.  

Black Panther has set a new standard for superhero films. Its success may never be replicated, and it’s a reminder to Hollywood that casts can be colorful and diverse, and the movie will still excel. This should give all minorities hope for the future they will be represented with the same love and care as the characters in Black Panther