The Significance of ‘Black Panther’
Next year, on February 16 – during Black History Month – Marvel Studios will release a tiny little film called Black Panther, which has a 90% Black cast and focuses on the nation of Wakanda, a fictional African society where technology and magic rule, and Black people are the focus. Oh, and did I mention that the movie stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya and several more gems of Black talent?
So I think you’d agree with me when I say a ‘little film’ is a bit of an understatement.
Black Panther will not be Marvel’s first foray into predominantly Black-centric storytelling. They did that last fall on Luke Cage, a TV series that was part of their rapidly expanding Netflix Defenders universe. If you’re not familiar with the character of Luke Cage, he’s a Black man whose costume is a black hoodie and whose skin is like iron and, as a result, bulletproof. You can see why this held both political and cultural significance for Black audiences.
Some Black viewers didn’t particularly respond well to Luke Cage‘s first season, saying that not only was the second half lackluster compared to the first, it was much too steeped with respectability politics (for example, there’s a running thing in the show about Luke Cage not feeling comfortable saying the N-word, which to some Black viewers was a little ridiculous). I happen to agree with those critiques (though I did still enjoy the show).
But we won’t have to worry about that with Black Panther, and here’s some reasons why. Ryan Coogler is helming the picture, and he’s a fantastic director. If you haven’t seen Creed or Fruitvale Station, where have you been? Both of those films were amazingly directed, sharp, tight thrillers with pro-Black themes, fantastically written scripts, and gorgeous, yet understated cinematography. If Coogler can apply his talent to the mythos of King T’Challa and the world of Wakanda, I believe we’ll be in for quite a ride.
It seems to be the priority of Marvel Studios (smartly) to get as much critically acclaimed Black talent involved with the picture as possible, which is a fantastic strategy. Lemonade and Moonlight production designer Hannah Beachler is signed to the picture; brilliant writer Joe Robert Cole helped Coogler with the script, and he’s known best for FX’s amazingly written The People vs. OJ Simpson; and the cast is deliciously Black and talented, with even more Black actors like Phylicia Rashad rumored to be joining. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coogler has Black editors, costume designers and even more behind-the-scenes production roles on lock. So not only could this film be important in terms of who’s on screen, it could help give all the Black talent involved more, bigger opportunities going forward.
Another thing I want to point out is how diverse the film is in terms of skin tone, gender and sexuality. It’s been made clear that T’Challa’s Dora Milaje, his all-female team of bodyguards, will be a huge focus of the film, giving powerhouse dark-skinned actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira a big role. Not everyone in the film is lighter than a paper bag, which has been a consistent problem for Hollywood – actually, the majority of the cast are dark-skinned or of a darker complexion. Also, Florence Kasumba – the woman that made such a big impression in Captain America: Civil War (remember: “Move. Or you will be moved.”) is playing Ayo, a character who is a lesbian in the comics. It seems that Coogler’s priority is not just making a Black film, but a Black film everyone can see themselves in – which is very, very exciting.
Plus, it just seems like it’s going to be a really fun, really cool action movie. They’re shooting some scenes for it in Busan, South Korea, where they’re apparently filming a huge car chase scene that involves hundreds of cars and acrobatic action similar to the motorcycle chase scene in Civil War. I mean, if that doesn’t sound awesome to you, I don’t know what does. And I have the utmost faith that Coogler and his creative team will be able to pull it off without a hitch.
For a while after Michael B. Jordan was cast in the film, #BlackPantherSoLIT created by @chadwickschill,trended on Twitter, Black Twitter celebrating the film and how much of a cultural milestone it appeared to be for Black audiences. The trend has since died down, but I would urge you to remember this: from the looks of the way things are shaping up, Black Panther is still lit, and it always will be.