Black Panther symbolizes black excellence
For nearly 40 years since Richard Donner’s Superman, white superheroes have been saving the day again and again in films and reboots we’ve all watched, yet not a single black hero has played the lead since Wesley Snipes’ Blade in 1998.
With Black Panther, everything will change.
July, 1966: The year America saw its first-ever black superhero, thanks to Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics. Yet today Hollywood has grown a bit too comfortable with its all-white hero complex. With five Superman reboots, eight Batman movies, and three Spidermans with three different reboots, it’s ridiculous that America’s first black superhero is finally coming to the big screen 52 years after his introduction to the world, but its premiere is also the perfect way to start Black History Month.
Hollywood tends to give minimum, if any, limelight to people of color when it comes to lead roles. They’re usually cast as “urban” characters, comedic relief, or play thugs and bad guys in most productions. By feeding into these tired and often negative stereotypes, it stunts any growth for character development and prevents POC from getting serious roles in films.
“This may seem like a small stride to some, but I believe this is a huge deal. Representation is important in all communities, so to think there are kids today that have gotten to see a black president, black Olympians, black scientists, and now a black superhero is historical,” said Michala Padgett, the vice president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. at UH. “This time in history will be looked at as a pivotal moment for African Americans.”
By having not only a black man playing the protagonist but also having a predominantly black cast, including a black director and black writers, the movie promotes more jobs in Hollywood for POC and creates opportunities for more inclusive films to be made.
Another advantage is that they show African Americans and Africa itself in a positive light. Black Americans are not burdened with stereotypical struggles such as racism, slavery, or surviving the ghetto, and Africa is seen as a technologically advanced society instead of the poverty and famine-stricken place other media shows it to be.
“I think it’s utterly amazing that they now have a movie with a superhero of color representing an African kingdom. It’s a great way to get people aware of indigenous African cultures from the past, while incorporating something that everyone loves,” said Alya Muses, the vice president of Students of East Africa at UH.
Along with reclaiming black image, the cast had social media in a frenzy. They showed up in royal African attire at the movie premiere and sold out more advance tickets in 24 hours on Fandango than any other Marvel movie, including Captain America: Civil War, effortlessly debunking the myth that “black movies don’t sell.”
Lack of representation also affects the way colored children view themselves in society. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is not only king and protector of Wakanda, he is also a scholar and master physician, politician, inventor and scientist. The impact of African American children finally seeing a superhero that looks like them is so anticipated that activists like Fredrick Joseph are starting GoFundMe pages to help underprivileged colored kids in Harlem see the movie for free.
The film will expose children of all ages to black excellence, giving everyone the opportunity to see the melanin in their skin being portrayed as symbol of strength and power in a world where it is usually condemned as inferior — and that is everything.
“I can definitely say that this movie in itself can be seen as a political statement with how powerfully black it is. I would like to see that empower and inspire people to be the change they want to see,” said Ronson Smith, an officer in UH’s NAACP chapter. “I think that any political influence this movie can or will have will come from what viewers decide to do after this movie is over. Will it be seen as just a movie? Or will it be taken to heart and lead people to make a change? That really depends on us as the people.”
Wakanda, in all its beauty, is what nations across Africa could have been 300 years ago had they been able to continue their strong lineage of culture, royalty and wealth. It’s a fictional country filled with technology that is centuries ahead of the western world and is refreshingly ruled as a matriarchy filled with strong, intelligent woman, played by black women of all shades and hair types — another major thing lacking in Hollywood.
Growing up, the TV shows and movies we watched the majority of the time rarely had any black girls, and if they did, they were usually light skinned with straight or wavy hair. It wasn’t until we got older that we realized we had subconsciously been allowing pop culture and society to tell us that our natural hair was ugly and too black to be shown on television.
While Black Panther is a beacon of hope for the black people around the world, it’s still a process for POC as a whole.
I realized this movie was important because deep down, we were all mourning, reminded of a history that was taken away from us. A great history reduced into something dark and overbearing that still shadows us today. Films such as Roots, Django Unchained, The Color Purple, Mississippi Damned and even Tyler Perry’s movie franchise were all built on black struggles.
Slavery, victims of rape and child abuse, addicts and abusers: These were all images we had grown up internalizing, believing this is what we were made up of and who we would always be, when in reality, we are so much more, and Black Panther shows us exactly that.
Black Panther is black excellence, because it shows us the possibility for a future where a black people will no longer be defined by a dark past but instead become inspired to create a future filled with power, beauty, and excellence like in Wakanda.
“I look forward to seeing more diverse and black casts become the norm. I look forward to my own kids having a plethora of black role models to look up to. (I look forward to) more movies like Black Panther,” Smith said.
Assistant Opinion Editor Bethel Biru is a broadcast journalism senior. She can be reached [email protected]