Although “Black Panther” isn’t the first black superhero film ever (Hancock, Blade, The Meteor Man and Blankman) lots of commentators are claiming that Black Panther is the first real ‘blackbuster’ and therefore it is unsurprising that many are hailing the importance of the film for the African American collective community. The $200m film is directed by African American director, Ryan Coogler and contains an overwhelmingly black cast, of course starring Chadwick Boseman (above). Black Panther challenges the over riding cultural norm that heroes are white males.
Unlike the films we have studied in class, this is definitively a mainstream movie with a huge reach. Therefore, if the film is constructing positive representations for African American males it is likely to have a profound effect upon audiences especially when the film is entering into the cultural consciousness at a when the Black Lives Matters movement is still buoyant, Donald Trump has referred to African countries as “shitholes” and systematic racism seems ubiquitous:
- FRONT COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE – the author, Jamil Smith argues:“This is not just a movie about a black superhero…it’s very much a black movie. It carries a weight that neither Thor nor Captain America could lift: serving a black audience that has long gone underrepresented…For a wary and risk-averse film business, led largely by white film executives who have been historically predisposed to green light projects featuring characters who look like them, Black Panther will offer proof that a depiction of a reality of something other than whiteness can make a ton of money”.
- IMPORTANCE TO THE COLLECTIVE COMMUNITY – activist, Frederick T Joseph is crowdfunding money to help African American children watch the film:“[Black Panther] is something that is not only wrapped in blackness but is also layered and nuanced. It has aspects of feminism, of black non-toxic masculinity, of loss, of pain, of various black existences – and that’s something very important for our kids to see.” After appearing on her show, Ellen DeGeneres donated $10,000. What’s more, there are now more than 200 campaigns worldwide, with over $250,000 raised from more than 4,000 donations.
- A COLLECTIVE CHANGE – Chadwick Boseman accepts that Black Panther is not going to change representations on its own, indeed, “this is one of many things that have happened over the past few years. This moment has been building.” Films such as Mudbound, Selma, A Wrinkle in Time and TV programmes such as Insecure and Atlanta are part of a growing long tail of diverse representations of African Americans.
- NO TOKENISM HERE – “Quality film-making is the key,” Boseman argues, “You don’t wanna do films with black casts and directors just for the sake of doing it. Critical acclaim and commercial success is the goal. Also the way we work together as artists; giving to one another and sharing in the work. That’s what a renaissance is: artists who wanna be around each other and work together. It won’t be a fad as long as that love and community continues to exist. And it’s about people. Not the studios or the word ‘Hollywood’. Most people wouldn’t even know that Nate Moore is black, but he’s one of the shot-callers at Marvel. It’s not just the black people, though. The fact that you have someone like Kevin Feige [president of Marvel Studios] and Alan Horn [chairman of Disney], who are white, is important because they’re progressive thinkers. Everybody’s minds are opening up, people are more conscious than they used to be.”
- PROFIT MOTIVE – Perhaps the greater range of representations of African Americans is simply a reflection of economics. There were 5.6 million African American moviegoers that were recorded going to the cinema in 2016 (National Association of Theater Owners). African Americans make up 12% of the population, they accounted for 14% of ticket movie ticket sales in 2016.