For most people, the word “superhero” conjures up the image of a burly white guy flying around in a cape. Perhaps that is why Marvel’s Black Panther broke the box office, grossing a whopping $476.6 million US in its opening weekend. Despite its enormous success, it should be noted that Black Panther is neither the first nor the only black superhero to have his own movie. It begs the question, why is Black Panter already so successful?
The first thought that comes to my mind is that Black Panther doesn’t use a recycled plotline — in other words, it’s a stand-alone movie. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Marvel fans seem to really enjoy the fact that a “Marvel universe” exists: they like seeing superheroes and other characters in other movies besides their own. I, too, enjoy the idea; however, I also notice how this has lead to characters blending together. For example, another hugely popular (and fairly recent) Marvel movie, Deadpool, was also a groundbreaker for the entertainment studio, albeit in a vastly different way. Deadpool featured yet another burly white guy (Ryan Reynolds), but this time, the true star of the show was the sarcastic writing style, which frequently broke the fourth wall. Marvel seized upon the success of this style and essentially wrote every movie thereafter to be like Deadpool, regardless of the superhero actually featured. This led to annoyingly incongruous characterizing of superheroes; for example, Thor: Ragnarok featured a hairless Thor, as well as a spectrum of Norse gods acting like kind-of-douchey bounty hunters — it just didn’t really match up. Long story short: thank God it’s Black Panther and not Black Deadpool!
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s actually get to talking about Black Panther. When the ruler of the hyper-secret and super-futuristic African country of Wakanda is assassinated, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must assume the role of the Black Panther, the ruler of the country. While some questioned his worthiness of this title, none challenged his claim quite like Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), T’Challa’s estranged cousin. With the help of a powerful substance called vibranium, Wakanda proves to be the polar opposite of what the media portrays African countries to be — that is to say: primitive and poor. Featuring arguably the most advanced and obscure technology ever showcased in a Marvel movie, Wakanda could easily give Tony Stark a run for his money. In a true clash of the ideologies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., T’Challa seeks to protect Wakanda — an African country where neither the land nor the people were exploited — by retaining all of the vibranium within its confines, whereas Killmonger wishes to empower the populations of Africans, and those of African descent, who live under oppression by furnishing them with Wakandan technology and weaponry.
Emulating the issues fought for by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s (who, in a nutshell, were a vigilante justice group that monitored police brutality with special attention to the African American community), Black Panther is much more than a superhero movie. This movie packs way more punch than any burly white guy in a cape ever has and it could not have come at a better time. I can only hope that Black Panther will lead the revolution in superhero filmmaking, further diversifying the heroes on screen and bringing real issues, and their heroes, to light.