‘Black Panther’ Is Marvel’s First Genuine Masterpiece


Ryan Coogler’s highly anticipated superhero movie is even better and richer than could have been imagined, thanks to a fantastical world that evokes real questions about history

 

Let’s talk about hunger. As wonderful as Black Panther is—and it’s as good as we’d hoped, maybe even better—nothing in it is a match for the carefree, infectious joy displayed last week by a group of middle school students from Atlanta’s Ron Clark Academy. Maybe you’ve seen them. They went viral after videos of their celebratory dancing on school cafeteria tables hit Instagram, then Twitter, then the news. The students had just found out that they—like middle and high school students across the country, boosted by fundraising campaigns and the wise support of their principals, teachers, parents, and local community leaders—were taking a school trip to see Black Panther for free. Fundraisers to send students like these to see the movie have become a nationwide trend: the #BlackPantherChallenge. Over $300,000 has been raised to date.

That’s not the sole reason Black Panther seems poised to trounce box office records this weekend, to say nothing of its other benchmarks, like exceeding the Fandango presales of every other Marvel movie to date, or being one of Twitter’s most talked-about movies of 2017—despite not coming out until 2018. But it helps. If we’re going to have a conversation about what makes Black Panther feel so essential, we may as well start there. We can do the whole song and dance of spelling out the basic reasons for the movie’s importance: what it means for Hollywood that a project of this size, with this budget, and with a nearly all-black cast, can finally seem like a worthwhile risk for a major studio and the timely impact of a movie about a mythical African kingdom, a so-called “shithole country,” to be released at this moment in our political history. The movie is a symbolic solution to issues that, when Black Panther was just a rumor, a dream getting tossed to and fro in a Marvel Studios boardroom, we didn’t think could grow so much more dire.

All of that matters. All of it is true and worth reckoning with. Does any of it justify the goofiness of Michael B. Jordan, one of the movie’s stars, cosplaying as a member of the actual Black Panther Party on the cover of British GQ? Complicated. Maybe a radical political organization like the Panthers would have preferred to have been left out of your corporate franchise narrative, pun or no pun. And would any of the movie’s representational power still matter if Black Panther weren’t any good? Again: complicated. The social politics of it all are eerie and dense; those politics, twined with history, aesthetics, the New York Times push alerts I keep ignoring, the open-all-hours despondent chaos of my Twitter feed, and on and on, is even more fraught. It’s possible to love Black Panther but be conflicted, but still love it, but still be conflicted, all the while sharing in the unmitigated joy of its existence. “The film arrives as a corporate product,” writes Carvell Wallace, beautifully, for The New York Times, “but we are using it for our own purposes.” I like thinking of Black Panther in those terms: not just as a movie you watch, nor as a challenge to the woke box-checking of the political minefield we call the internet, but as something we can use.

Black Panther is a feat in its own right. It is very much the Black Panther tale dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, a retelling of the origin story in which Wakanda becomes the sole possessor of vibranium, an indestructible alien element from a fallen meteorite, and over time becomes the most technologically advanced society in the world, in part by cutting itself off from said world, hiding under the cloak of unassuming third-world poverty.

The story of the movie, taking its cue from the comics over the years, involves precisely this question of isolation, and whether Wakanda is better off alone. The trouble starts when T’Chaka, the king of Wakanda, and the current Black Panther, is killed in an attack on the U.N. in Vienna, a plot point familiar from 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. When he dies, his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), rises to power. The robot-armed villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), meanwhile, is trying to break into Wakanda and steal its resources with a small team of bad guys, among them Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), by his side. Who Killmonger is to Wakanda I’ll leave it to the movie to reveal. Suffice it to say this gnarly, muscled Annapolis grad from America has been trained in bringing down royal dynasties, and he’s got his eye on T’Challa’s throne—and the smarts, as well as the thirst for vengeance, needed to get there.

It’s a complicated plot centered on the question of what Wakanda is and—most urgently—what it means, not only to the Wakandans themselves nor even to Africans broadly, but to blacks everywhere. Imagine knowing there was a black utopia, a place at the root of all blackness, self-sufficient and untouched by slavery or colonialism. It’s a fantasy: a reversal of history. “Wakanda itself is a dream state,” says director Ava DuVernay to The New York Times, “a place that’s been in the hearts and minds and spirits of black people since we were brought here in chains.” The question that envelops Black Panther, in other words, is a question baked, poignantly and also fraughtly, into its script. What Wakanda—a booming black metropolis that mixes technological Afro-futurity with the spiritual and ancestral past—means to the black people within the movie is analogous to what it means to us outside of it.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed in comment sections and the occasional dumb tweet that this idea can be misread to suggest that the premise of Black Panther is one in which black greatness can exist only in fantasy. I see it differently. The power of Wakanda, to me, is in the idea that within destitution and historical violence can lurk great power. Wakanda puts up a literal front that effaces its true beauty; what appears impoverished is, in fact, the seat of technological advancement. This is different from the usual Third World discourse, and it’s certainly different from the history of colonization, in which the primacy of Africa as a hub of civilization, rather than as merely a victim of it, is often erased.

“I’m from a place that I’d never been to and that nobody who I loved had been to because they couldn’t afford to go,” says Coogler, who grew up hearing about Africa but went for the first time only late in the process of making his previous film, Creed. “So I would hear stories from them about this place that they didn’t even know anything about, and those stories were a counterbalance to the awful things that we did hear about them.” Coogler spent about three weeks traveling Africa as he did research for the film. “I truly felt that seeing it for myself was necessary for my growth as a human being.”

The story of black American spiritual renewal and voyages to Africa isn’t a new one; entire movements and styles, from Black Zionism in the 19th century to the kente cloth durags I grew up seeing in Irvington, New Jersey, were born of this idea. It’s not even new to movies, really—Coming to America being a prominent, humorous riff on black Americans’ imaginative curiosity about Africa and Africans, and Hype Williams’s Belly, which features a character played by Nas expresses a desire to leave behind a life of violence to go to Africa and find his roots. But that’s not the same as seeing it in a Marvel movie. And Coogler, smartly, revels in the astonishing, symbolic beauty of it. Coogler’s Wakanda is rife with powerful women, including the army of speared warrior women known as the Dora Milaje, who serve the king in name but, based on their fierceness alone, would seem to serve no master. Has Grace Jones hailed from Wakanda this whole time and none of us knew? The gangbusters quartet of Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Letitia Wright play T’Challa’s love interest, war general, mother, and sister, respectively, but each woman stands on her own, separate from her ties to T’Challa. Each woman is as modern as the gleaming, sky-high buildings or the hyperadvanced rail system devised by Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, who is in charge of the country’s vibranium-based technologies.

For all that’s new, there’s old again: The act of becoming king is still rooted in old rituals, down to a fight on the rocky cliffs of a waterfall in which the incumbent Black Panther, stripped of his legendary powers and reduced to being a mere man, must defend the seat from a challenger. T’Challa wins that battle, but he risks losing the war. What makes Black Panther feel different from other Marvel movies is that the world it imagines, the fights it insists must be fought, are grounded in real questions with immediate analogues that harken back to an entire discourse of black activism and thought. Other superhero movies could take a page from Black Panther’s book. How much better would most superhero movies be if, rather than fall back on the plain anonymity of World War I and II villains, they rooted themselves in a live, urgent sense of culture? What if Christopher Nolan’s Batman films had anchored themselves in a genuine sense of economic disparity, rather than continually paying lip service to that idea through a vaguely conceived millionaire and his abuses of power? What if the Avengers’ Ultron had more of a palpable fear of public surveillance? Seeing Bruce Wayne or even 007 get a tour of their new toys, meanwhile, is always fun, as tropes go, but imagine that those toys, and the monied, technologically advanced societies they imply, had become possible only through an element that had the power to reverse the course of colonial history. Wouldn’t those tools seem more powerful, the stakes in their design that much higher?

That’s what it feels like to watch Black Panther. Coogler’s unique skill, visible from his first feature, Fruitvale Station (2013), about the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant III in Oakland, is his ability to instill a movie with a sense of history and, even more remarkably, a sense of place. Fruitvale is very much an Oakland story. The director’s tremendous follow-up, Creed (2015), a sequel to the Rocky franchise (again starring Michael B. Jordan), is a Philly story.

Black Panther is, obviously, a Wakanda story, meaning that its images ripple with Wakanda’s specific rhythms and textures; characters’ in-jokes and senses of humor seem to open up untold bits of history among them; rituals feel genuinely ritualistic, lived in and specific to the people and the place. It’s convincing in the way that the struggles between young Creed and old man Rocky became the foundation of one of the most moving and unlikely screen relationships in recent memory. Their shared history, evoked in the pictures on the walls, the scratches in the furniture, and the gestures and looks that divvy up the emotional beats of the story, is what creates that bond. Coogler takes history—geographic, interpersonal, textbook—seriously. But that’s merely a personality trait. What makes his films a cut above is his ability to give that history an afterlife in images, to weld those images into a story, to fashion that story into something larger than life—larger, even, than movies.

Black Panther may be Coogler’s first superhero movie, but in truth, the heroes at the center of his films, including Oscar Grant, have always felt bigger than their real-life counterparts, if only because of Coogler’s willingness to lean into treating them like the heroes of a movie. It’s not that simple, but maybe it is. Even Fruitvale, which lacks the muscled opera of Creed and the big-budget wizardry of Black Panther, is a movie whose contrived sense of last rites seems to contradict the realistic look of its images. But the movie isn’t totally interested in outright realism. It’s a precisely structured, unsubtle, larger-than-life tragedy, the kind of tribute you give to a man whose fate stood for more than one man’s fate. That comes off in large part because of Jordan, who is again the standout actor in Panther, and who has found, in Coogler, the perfect collaborator. In Panther, Jordan’s pain is the movie’s pain, his rage the movie’s rage. He’s the villain, but not really. The movie takes the grand risk of seeing him with sympathy, not merely because he’s human, but because he, too, is a black man in search of a home, and a history—like so many of us. He has strayed, but the movie goes out of its way to give his feelings legitimacy. The ideas that sustain him—about what Wakanda owes to the world—are the opposite of villainy.

I admittedly have less at stake in whether Black Panther is a good superhero movie. I just wanted it to be a good movie. And I wanted us to be a good audience: thoughtful, fair, fervent, excited. I think we’re all winning, on all fronts. The most radical thing a Black Panther movie could have done is ask what Wakanda means—and what it owes—to the race. And that’s what Coogler’s passionate, funny, dexterous movie asks, over and over again, both to its characters and to its audience. It’s a mighty question, and it feels like it’s coming alive in almost every one of Coogler’s images: in their sense of the elements, in their dramatic and physical grandeur, in their beauty. Black Panther crouching in trees to pounce on a team of sex traffickers is an image with force; so are the images of T’Challa fighting for the throne in water so viscous and alive it seems fit to swallow him back up into the earth. Wakanda is sequestered for a reason. Its ability to resist being colonized, like its neighbors, isn’t arbitrary or accidental. How do you make a multimillion-dollar Marvel movie out of that moral complexity? There’s no need to wonder any longer. Coogler has made that movie. And it’s Marvel’s first genuine masterpiece.

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The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther


The first movie I remember seeing in a theater had a black hero. Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, didn’t have any superpowers, but he ran his own city. That movie, the 1980 Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, introduced Calrissian as a complicated human being who still did the right thing. That’s one reason I grew up knowing I could be the same.

If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you—executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Now, after a brief respite, you again have a President.

Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi­faceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it.

This is one of the many reasons Black Panther is significant. What seems like just another entry in an endless parade of super­hero movies is actually something much bigger. It hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already enormous. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors. “You have superhero films that are gritty dramas or action comedies,” director Ryan Coogler tells TIME. But this movie, he says, tackles another important genre: “Superhero films that deal with issues of being of African descent.”

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MarvelBlack Panther features tense action sequences: “There was a point during the movie when my brother turned to me and said, ‘What’s gonna happen?’” Boseman says. “I looked at him like, ‘Just watch the movie!’”

Black Panther is the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that has made $13.5 billion at the global box office over the past 10 years. (Marvel is owned by Disney.) It may be the first mega­budget movie—not just about superheroes, but about anyone—to have an African-American director and a predominantly black cast. Hollywood has never produced a blockbuster this splendidly black.

The movie, out Feb. 16, comes as the entertain­ment industry is wrestling with its toxic treatment of women and persons of color. This rapidly expanding reckoning—one that reflects the importance of representation in our culture—is long overdue. Black Panther is poised to prove to Hollywood that African-American narratives have the power to generate profits from all audiences. And, more important, that making movies about black lives is part of showing that they matter.

The invitation to the Black Panther premiere read “Royal attire requested.” Yet no one showed up to the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on Jan. 29 looking like an extra from a British costume drama. On display instead were crowns of a different sort—ascending head wraps made of various African fabrics. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o wore her natural hair tightly wrapped above a resplendent bejeweled purple gown. Men, including star Chadwick Boseman and Coogler, wore Afrocentric patterns and clothing, dashikis and boubous. Co-star Daniel Kaluuya, an Oscar nominee for his star turn in Get Out, arrived wearing a kanzu, the formal tunic of his Ugandan ancestry.

After the Obama era, perhaps none of this should feel groundbreaking. But it does. In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance. Its themes challenge institutional bias, its characters take unsubtle digs at oppressors, and its narrative includes prismatic perspectives on black life and tradition. The fact that Black Panther is excellent only helps.

Black Panther Hero Rises Time Magazine Cover

Back when the film was announced, in 2014, nobody knew that it would be released into the fraught climate of President Trump’s America—where a thriving black future seems more difficult to see. Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville chaos last summer equated those protesting racism with violent neo-Nazis defending a statue honoring a Confederate general. Immigrants from Mexico, Central America and predominantly Muslim countries are some of the President’s most frequent scapegoats. So what does it mean to see this film, a vision of unmitigated black excellence, in a moment when the Commander in Chief reportedly, in a recent meeting, dismissed the 54 nations of Africa as “sh-thole countries”?

As is typical of the climate we’re in, Black Panther is already running into its share of trolls—including a Facebook group that sought, unsuccessfully, to flood the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes with negative ratings of the film. That Black Panther signifies a threat to some is unsurprising. A fictional African King with the technological war power to destroy you—or, worse, the wealth to buy your land—may not please someone who just wants to consume the latest Marvel chapter without deeper political consideration. Black Panther is emblematic of the most productive responses to bigotry: rather than going for hearts and minds of racists, it celebrates what those who choose to prohibit equal representation and rights are ignoring, willfully or not. They are missing out on the full possibility of the world and the very America they seek to make “great.” They cannot stop this representation of it. When considering the folks who preemptively hate Black Panther and seek to stop it from influencing American culture, I echo the response that the movie’s hero T’Challa is known to give when warned of those who seek to invade his home country: Let them try.

The history of black power and the movement that bore its name can be traced back to the summer of 1966. The activist Stokely Carmichael was searching for something more than mere liberty. To him, integration in a white-dominated America meant assimilation by default. About one year after the assassination of Malcolm X and the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Carmichael took over the Student Non­violent Coordinating Committee from John Lewis. Carmichael decided to move the organization away from a philosophy of pacifism and escalate the group’s militancy to emphasize armed self-defense, black business ownership and community control.

In June of that year, James Meredith, an activist who four years earlier had become the first black person admitted to Ole Miss, started the March Against Fear, a long walk of protest from Memphis to Mississippi, alone. On the second day of the march, he was wounded by a gunman. Carmichael and tens of thousands of others continued in Meredith’s absence. Carmichael, who was arrested halfway through the march, was incensed upon his release. “The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over,” he declared before a passionate crowd on June 16. “We been saying freedom for six years and we ain’t got nothin’. What we gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power!”

ATMS/AP/REX/ShutterstockThe activist Stokely Carmichael, pictured here at a 1966 rally in Berkeley, Calif., took a stand against white oppression and helped popularize the term black power

Black Panther was born in the civil rights era, and he reflected the politics of that time. The month after Carmichael’s Black Power declaration, the character debuted in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four No. 52. Supernatural strength and agility were his main features, but a genius intellect was his best attribute. “Black Panther” wasn’t an alter ego; it was the formal title for T’Challa, King of Wakanda, a fictional African nation that, thanks to its exclusive hold on the sound-absorbent metal vibranium, had become the most technologically advanced nation in the world.

It was a vision of black grandeur and, indeed, power in a trying time, when more than 41% of ­African Americans were at or below the poverty line and comprised nearly a third of the nation’s poor. Much like the iconic Lieutenant Uhura character, played by Nichelle Nichols, that debuted in Star Trek in September 1966, Black Panther was an expression of Afrofuturism—an ethos that fuses African mythologies, technology and science fiction and serves to rebuke conventional depictions of (or, worse, efforts to bring about) a future bereft of black people. His white creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, did not consciously conjure a fantasy-world response to Carmichael’s call, but the image still held power. T’Challa was not only strong and educated; he was also royalty. He didn’t have to take over. He was already in charge.

“You might say that this African nation is fantasy,” says Boseman, who portrays T’Challa in the movie. “But to have the opportunity to pull from real ideas, real places and real African concepts, and put it inside of this idea of Wakanda—that’s a great opportunity to develop a sense of what that identity is, especially when you’re disconnected from it.”

The character emerged at a time when the civil rights movement rightfully began to increase its demands of an America that had promised so much and delivered so little to its black population. Fifty-two years after the introduction of T’Challa, those demands have yet to be fully answered. According to the Federal Reserve, the typical African-American family had a median net worth of $17,600 in 2016. In contrast, white households had a median net worth of $171,000. The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.

The Black Panther Party, the revolutionary organization founded in Oakland, Calif., a few months after T’Challa’s debut, was depicted in the media as a threatening and radical group with goals that differed dramatically from the more pacifist vision of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Lewis. Marvel even briefly changed the character’s name to Black Leopard because of the inevitable association with the Panthers, but soon reverted. For some viewers, “Black Panther” may have undeservedly sinister connotations, but the 2018 film reclaims the symbol to be celebrated by all as an avatar for change.

The urgency for change is partly what Carmichael was trying to express in the summer of ’66, and the powers that be needed to listen. It’s still true in 2018.

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Moviegoers first encountered Boseman’s T’Challa in Marvel’s 2016 ensemble hit Captain America: Civil War, and he instantly cut a striking figure in his sleek vibranium suit. As Black Panther opens, with T’Challa grieving the death of his father and coming to grips with his sudden ascension to the Wakandan throne, it’s clear that our hero’s royal upbringing has kept him sheltered from the realities of how systemic racism has touched just about every black life across the globe.

The comic, especially in its most recent incarnations as rendered by the writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, has worked to expunge Euro­centric misconceptions of Africa—and the film’s imagery and thematic material follow suit. “People often ask, ‘What is Black Panther? What is his power?’ And they have a misconception that he only has power through his suit,” says Boseman. “The character is existing with power inside power.”

Coogler says that Black Panther, like his previous films—including the police-brutality drama Fruitvale Station and his innovative Rocky sequel Creed—explores issues of identity. “That’s something I’ve always struggled with as a person,” says the director. “Like the first time that I found out I was black.” He’s talking less about an epidermal self-awareness than about learning how white society views his black skin. “Not just identity, but names. ‘Who are you?’ is a question that comes up a lot in this film. T’Challa knows exactly who he is. The antagonist in this film has many names.”

That villain comes in the form of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a former black-ops soldier with Wakandan ties who seeks to both outwit and beat down T’Challa for the crown. As played by a scene-­stealing Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger’s motivations illuminate thorny questions about how black people worldwide should best use their power.

In the movie, Killmonger is, like Coogler, a native of Oakland. By exploring the disparate experiences of Africans and African Americans, Coogler shines a bright light on the psychic scars of slavery’s legacy and how black Americans endure the real-life consequences of it in the present day. Killmonger’s perspective is rendered in full; his rage over how he and other black people across the world have been disenfranchised and disempowered is justifiable.

Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, also includes another important antagonist from the comics: the dastardly and bigoted Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). “What I love about this experience is that it could have been the idea of black exploitation: he’s gonna fight Klaue, he’s gonna go after the white man and that’s it—that’s the enemy,” Boseman says. He recognizes that some fans will take issue with a black male villain fighting black protagonists. Killmonger fights not only T’Challa, but also warrior women like the spy Nakia (Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the rest of the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s all-female royal guards. Killmonger and Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s quippy tech-genius sister, also face off.

T’Challa and Killmonger are mirror images, separated only by the accident of where they were born. “What they don’t realize,” Boseman says, “is that the greatest conflict you will ever face will be the conflict with yourself.”

Both T’Challa and Killmonger had to be compelling in order for the movie to succeed. “Obviously, the superhero is who puts you in the seat,” Coogler says.

“That’s who you want to see come out on top. But I’ll be damned if the villains ain’t cool too. They have to be able to stand up to the hero, and have you saying, ‘Man, I don’t know if the hero’s going to make it out of this.’”

“If you don’t have that,” Boseman says, “you don’t have a movie.”

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MarvelOn set, Coogler works with star Gurira. “Black Panther is about a guy who works with his family and is responsible for a whole country,” he says. “That responsibility doesn’t turn off.”

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 so long, films that depict a reality where whiteness isn’t the default have been ghettoized, marketed largely to audiences of color as niche entertainment, instead of as part of the mainstream. Think of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, Malcolm D. Lee’s surprise 1999 hit The Best Man or the Barbershop franchise that launched in 2002. But over the past year, the success of films including Get Out and Girls Trip have done even bigger business at the box office, led to commercial acclaim and minted new stars like Kaluuya and Tiffany Haddish. Those two hits have only bolstered an argument that has persisted since well before Spike Lee made his debut: black films with black themes and black stars can and should be marketed like any other. No one talks about Woody Allen and Wes Anderson movies as “white movies” to be marketed only to that audience.

Black Panther marks the biggest move yet in this wave: it’s both a black film and the newest entrant in the most bankable movie franchise in history. For a wary and risk-averse film business, led largely by white film executives who have been historically predisposed to greenlight 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.

The film’s positive reception—as of Feb. 6, the day initial reviews surfaced, it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes—bodes well for its commercial prospects. Variety predicted that it could threaten the Presidents’ Day weekend record of $152 million, set in 2016 by Deadpool.

Some of the film’s early success can be credited to Nate Moore, an African­-American executive producer in Marvel’s film division who has been vocal about the importance of including black characters in the Marvel universe. But beyond Wakanda, the questions of power and responsibility, it seems, are not only applicable to the characters in Black Panther. Once this film blows the doors off, as expected, Hollywood must do more to reckon with that issue than merely greenlight more black stories. It also needs more Nate Moores.

“I know people [in the entertainment industry] are going to see this and aspire to it,” Boseman says. “But this is also having people inside spaces—gatekeeper positions, people who can open doors and take that idea. How can this be done? How can we be represented in a way that is aspirational?”

Because Black Panther marks such an unprecedented moment that excitement for the film feels almost kinetic. Black Panther parties are being organized, pre- and post-film soirées for fans new and old. A video of young Atlanta students dancing in their classroom once they learned they were going to see the film together went viral in early February. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer announced on her Insta­gram account that she’ll be in Mississippi when Black Panther opens and that she plans to buy out a theater “in an underserved community there to ensure that all our brown children can see themselves as a superhero.”

Many civil rights pioneers and other trailblazing forebears have received lavish cinematic treatments, in films including Malcolm X, Selma and Hidden Figures. Jackie Robinson even portrayed himself onscreen. Fictional celluloid champions have included Virgil Tibbs, John Shaft and Foxy Brown. Lando, too. But Black Panther matters more, because he is our best chance for people of every color to see a black hero. That is its own kind of power.

Michael B. Jordan: ‘Black Panther shows black kids they can be superheroes’


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Michael B. Jordan has hailed new movie Black Panther as “extremely important” in changing the landscape of cinema for black actors.

The new Marvel movie features a mainly black cast, with a host of big names starring alongside Creed star Michael, including Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.

Talking to British GQ about the significance of Ryan Coogler’s new flick, Michael highlighted why it is such a landmark film.

“I think it’s extremely important,” he stated. “I feel like I never had that many actors to look at and inspire me growing up. Black actors that I could identify with, that look like me on screen… And I’m just thinking about what this movie is going to do to the kids growing up… Black kids, white kids, all kids because they can imagine just as much as we can, but specifically black kids who don’t have that many positive examples to look at on TV and film.

“We’re giving black people power, royalty – we don’t gotta be crackheads or gangbangers, selling drugs or robbing people. We don’t have to be comic relief. We can be superheroes. Imagine what that’s going to do to the imagination and ambition of kids watching these movies. That’s the real impact of this film.”

The highly anticipated movie hits cinemas from 13 February (18). Chadwick takes on the lead role of T’Challa/ Black Panther, with Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis among the supporting cast.