It wouldn’t be until the seventies before we saw we saw John Stewart’s Green Lantern, Blade, Luke Cage, Falcon, or even X-Men’s Storm. But in 1966, making his first appearance alongside the Fantastic Four, came a mysterious African figure, from a equally mysterious African nation known as Wakanda. T’Challa, son of the late king T’Chaka and current king of Wakanda, is also the latest in line to don the mantle of the Black Panther: a persona that equips him with a vibranium suit (the same material as Captain America’s shield), as well as enhanced agility, strength, and speed. His home of Wakanda is the pinnacle of Afro-futurism, thanks to vast deposits of vibranium, have allowed the country to prosper, though isolated, from the outside world.
As most of you already know, Marvel’s newest film starring Chadwick Boseman has been a big hit at the box office, shattering numerous records, thanks to a multitude of factors, not least of which is director Ryan Coogler, who also directed Fruitvale Station and Creed. And while he’s not the first black superhero (Meteor Man, Blade, Catwoman), and not even the first prolific black Marvel hero (War Machine, Nick Fury, Heimdall, Falcon, Luke Cage), he is the first African, and, as I noted, their first black superhero in the comics. He almost got a movie in the nineties starring Wesley Snipes, but various roadblocks resulted in the movie getting shelved and Wesley instead starring in Blade.
But things got weird as the movie premiered. Reports began coming in that things were getting ugly as a direct result of the movie. I just wanted to ask…why?
1. The recent racial strife
Race has never not been an issue in America. From slavery to Jim Crow to Rodney King, racial relations between white America and African-Americans has been…tumultuous, to say the least. We’ve made tremendous progress, all things considered, but we still have a LONG way to go.
The #Blacklivesmatter movement sparked a renewed interest in racial justice in recent years. Colin Kaepernick gained attention for appearing anti-American. Racial politics became the forefront of most every major news story, sparking lots of fierce opinions. And to top it off, a presidential candidate who has few qualms about stoking the racial tensions himself.
Politically, we have become incredibly divided between right and left wing, and it has made some very ugly scars. It forced opinions and made them extreme. In the end, with an issue as volatile, nuanced, and practically invisible to many, it sparks many outraged discussions on both sides.
2. Vengeance against Marvel
Despite the stunning success and wide-reaching appeal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s invariably backlash, just like my own personal backlash against Star Wars. And among their biggest opponents, the DC fans. Partly because they’re equally as big and reputable as Marvel, and partly because they’re jealous.
I don’t mean to sound pithy, but I think they are justifiably angry. While Batman has had several popular films in his name, the state of the DCEU is pretty miserable at this point. Helmed by a director who gets darker, grittier, and more depressing, the DCEU is hustling to catch up to the level of cultural power Marvel has. So while Marvel took four movies to establish the four main stars of the Avengers, DC, and by extension Warner Brothers, only took two. They made Man of Steel needlessly depressing, Batman v Superman overcluttered, Suicide Squad a hot mess from day one, and Justice League just generally underwhelming.
But because even the worst movies get some sort of praise, and DC has no shortage of fans, this has led to the conspiracy theory that critics are paid off by Disney to smear the DCEU and praise Marvel. When Suicide Squad started tanking, theories about the site Rotten Tomatoes conspiring against them became prevalent. And recently, when the Black Panther movie came close to release, it became an easy target to lampoon, with some plotting to use Rotten Tomatoes as a means to sink their score.
The biggest reason why I wanted to write this article was due to the wealth of tweets from white people getting attacked at Black Pantherscreenings…and every one has turned out to be false.
It’s easy to dismiss a handful of these, and while a few have gained some attention in the news, I doubt there’s more than just a select few. Trolling online has be one a prevalent part of our landscape, and we’re forced to look at a few examples as a whole picture, which, of course, is not true. Trolls will be trolls,
4. Movies in general getting politicized.
Last year, Get Out became famous for being a mainstream film that really delved into racial sociology in a horror setting. We also saw the greatest super heroine of all time, Wonder Woman, FINALLY get her own movie, and it did great with critics and audiences. The year before that, we had the Ghostbusters reboot, which got ripped asunder long before the film’s release. And earlier that year, we had Disney’s Zootopia, which examined systemic racial tensions with allegory.
Films have always been a perspective on society, but in light of all the insanity going on, we strive to find equitable ground between man and woman, rich and poor, white and…not white, things are getting messy. The demands for a more diversified Hollywood are finally getting answered. But as always, there are those that think either A.) what we have now is enough, or B.) Hollywood is pushing some kind of liberal agenda.
The logical argument here is pretty simple: we have more than enough studly white dudes starring in movies. And now we’re seeing pretty awesome alternatives now. Let’s see where this goes. So, who’s ready for that Black Widow movie?
This one is kind of funny. If you studied civil rights history in America, you may recall the Black Panthers, a militarized group that reflected fought for civil rights for African-Americans, and have been condemned for their display of firearms. The group was founded in 1966, the same year as T’Challa first appeared. And if that weren’t coincidental enough, in the comic’s second run, T’Challa fought – no joke – The KKK. As a result, many believe that the character was a direct result of the group and promoted racial violence.
Except there’s a minor problem.
T’Challa’s premiere in Fantastic Four #52 was in July. The Black Panther group was founded in October.
As a result, there’s a lot of reasons why people are making Black Panther about racial tension. But on the flip side, it is about racial tension. And imperialism. And macroeconomics. And many other things, tapped into by a crew who knew a thing or two about the African, and African-American experience. And if so say so myself, it won’t be the last one.