By Josh McQueen
“Black Panther” has officially become a cultural phenomenon. After just three days, it grossed an astounding $202 million. It sits within the top 10 biggest box office debuts in US history.
But does it live up to the hype?
“Panther” maintains a fierce core that black women can be proud of, kids can aspire to, and black men don’t have to internally cringe at.
Ryan Coogler has directed a film that seems to be an evolution and a successor from the long-held presence of Blaxploitation films.
Without being remiss, a particular genre of black representation has gone hand in hand with the black experience. Some of that influence still holds true, having crossed over into music into the 80’s with gangster rap. The iconography of a flydressed pimp, street-savvy hustler or gun-packing gangster has been a presence in black culture since the mid-60’s.
Kings, scientists, architects, men of respectable stature, holy men, time travelers, treasure seekers, dudes with good credit-those onscreen representations were unthinkable to most black families in the 70’s.
“Coming to America” (1988), starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, stands alone for its Afro-centric representation of blacks atop a mountain of otherwise marginalized (yet still commercially lucrative) content.
Let’s not forget “The Last Dragon” (1985), which is still one of the best original superhero films to date and a cult classic. Yet, it managed to only gross $25.70 million, which does not incentivise movie executives to make more of these types of films.
And while “Blade” (1998), starring Wesley Snipes, offered a glimpse at a black superhero, the casting for that movie wasn’t predominately black.
Lightning in a bottle doesn’t do this film justice. In essence, this movie’s message is mirrored by the much sought after McGuffin within the film. And, like Vibranium, the source of the fictional city of Wakanda’s technology, metals and spirituality, it also has the ability to serve multiple purposes.
The precious metal, which is this film’s subject matter, manages to do what franchises like “Transformers” or “The Fast and the Furious” didn’t aim for; it sparks a poignant conversation. Proving once again that mere spectacle is not the only allure for audiences. Good content is.
This film addresses immigration issues, elitist attitudes, inequality among people sharing the same skin tone. There are Biblical parables, as well as ancient Egyptian myths interwoven into this story. All without being told from the hackneyed “remember how we blacks suffered as slaves” narrative.
Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, will be the beginning of a class discussion and material for thesis papers for years. His position in the film, while played to a somewhat negative degree, encapsulates the plight of the majority of black males.
King T’challa, aka Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, brings some of his best work to this film. He shares this screen time with his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. She, as well as Okoye, played by Walking Dead actress Dania Gurira, project noteworthy moments in what has been traditionally a male-dominated niche.
Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, delivers a subtle, yet strong performance, as well as the rest of the cast, which gives the film its regal and plausible feel.
The fact that “Black Panther” held the attention of all races at the box office proves that America wants a more positive representation of blacks on screen. Moving forward, perhaps the roles that black actors play can begin to upgrade. This film is a much needed shift in the overall representation of black people.