African American women demonstrating against racism by carlosbarquero, 123RF
When Marvel’s Black Panther first hit the big screens, it was all everyone talked about. Box office figures hit a sky-high record and it sparked conversation all over social media and traditional media alike. It also proved that movies featuring a predominantly black cast could also make bank.
Its discourse wasn’t just limited to the plot or cinematography, but it evolved into something bigger than moving pictures on a screen. They were conversations about Black culture and how minority representation is so important.
The arts don’t exist within a bubble. It was a groundbreaking moment celebrated by all Black people and their allies, especially at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement rang the loudest it has ever been. In an interview with TIME magazine, director Ryan Coogler even said the movie tackles “the issues of being of African descent.”
With the second franchise Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hitting theaters again, let’s revisit the ways in which the Black Panther series is a love letter to Black culture.
Black Panther was the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics.
Plastic figure of Black Panther from the Marvel universe by zhitkov, 123RF
The late Chadwick Boseman, who played the character of Black Panther or King T'Challa, changed the very definition of a superhero. For a long time, Black fictional characters were always reduced to the role of a sassy sidekick, a crook, or a support role who exists to help the white protagonist.
So, having a Black main character — one so charismatic and regal at that — is a huge deal. It was a great start for Hollywood to go beyond the usual Black narrative; to begin recognition for Black people and their struggles for quality roles in a white-dominated industry.
Black Lives Matter march against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd by beingbonny, 123RF
Black Panther is a typical Hollywood blockbuster that’s not at all typical in its casting. An almost entirely Black cast, and a great number of strong, powerful Black women who are always central to the story.
We’re not saying American mainstream entertainment did not feature the Black community, it’s just how they were shown. It's the blatant racism and messages that audiences have consumed for decades – and that’s nowhere to be seen in Coogler’s Black Panther.
From figures like Queen Mother Ramonda to the warrior women of the Jabari Tribe to the tech-savvy princess Shuri, the women of Black Panther do not fall short of the personality that gives them range and depth not usually found in Black female characters.
The fictional African land of Wakanda is depicted as a bustling metropolis.
Demonstrators from different cultures and race protest on street for equal rights by alessandrobiascioli, 123RF
Thanks to its super strong, sound-absorbent metal vibranium, Wakanda became the most advanced civilization in the Marvel universe – worlds away from the usual depictions that reduce the BIPOC community to stereotypes.
T’Challa was even considered the richest superhero amongst all the others. He had access to wealth and advanced Wakandan technology; it might even make Tony Stark a tad bit jealous.
It depicts a world where a Black person’s experience and potential aren't squashed by systemic racism and oppression. It challenges institutional bias, takes digs at oppressors and shares different perspectives on black life and tradition.
It shows freedom, diversity, and success instead of the less-than-desired reality of being displaced in gentrified neighborhoods, beaten and thrown into prison.
It embraces and celebrates African culture.
A portrait of a young Maasai warrior by katiekk2, 123RF
Throughout the movie, cultural details are sprinkled everywhere in the form of costumes and hairstyles. From headpieces inspired by the Zulu culture to metal bangles usually worn by the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania – every detail was meticulously arranged by its designer Ruth E. Carter.
Fun fact: She even bagged the award for Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work in Black Panther!
During the movie’s premiere, the cast donned outfits that showed their roots – head wraps, natural curly hair, afrocentric patterns, dashikis, boubous, kanzu and more traditional clothing.
Even the procurement of those items were supposedly done with so much thought and intention. It was said that Carter traveled to different parts of Africa to minimize the chances of misrepresenting the items and to support the local businesses.
Wakanda was a real possibility.
Candid photo of West Africa Women getting Tap Water in an arid zone by borgogFniels, 123RF
The coolest thing about Wakanda is that it shows the possibilities of what could’ve happened in real life.
It provokes the question: What if African countries were never subjected to slavery and imperialism? What if Black African history was not interrupted by white colonialism? What if they were just left with their indigenous knowledge and resources and were given time to make great technological strides?
Carter herself said that Wakanda needed to evoke a palace that had never been colonized. It had to represent a world that looked toward the future but was “based on a real past.”
“We serve Wakanda. And let us not forget, we also serve each other. Together we will always rise.”
With all the success Black Panther has garnered, it’s also no surprise that it has run into its fair share of trolls – mostly reacting from the grounds of racism, xenophobia and white supremacy. But that is precisely why Black Panther was a much-needed reminder for the Black community to feel empowered by their ‘blackness.’