By: Alexandra Travis
On Feb. 16, 2018, one of the most anticipated films of the year, “Black Panther,” was released in theaters. Ever since, audiences have been flooding to theaters to be transported into the hidden land of Wakanda and experience the tale of Black Panther. The black superhero is not new in the Marvel universe–his character was written decades ago by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby–but this is his first time getting to shine on the big screen. “Black Panther” has made waves by providing opportunities and representation for black folks across the entertainment industry, all of which has led to the film breaking records.
“Black Panther” has been praised for its inclusion of people of color in the film. This is one of the first times that there has been an almost entirely black cast for a film that is not considered a stereotypical “black” movie and is not focusing on the experiences of slaves. Instead, black actors fill the roles of superheroes, kings, queens, warriors, tech geniuses and are generally placed in a positive light throughout the film. Lesser known to the audiences are the people of color employed by “Black Panther” behind the scenes. Corey Calliet, the celebrity trainer and body transformation specialist responsible for the cast looking their part as warriors, is a black man. Two black women–production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter–worked together to make the visuals of Wakanda and the culture come alive by studying the traditional dress of groups of people across the African continent. “Black Panther” was more than just employing black actors; it was also placing black people in important roles throughout production.
Through employing black actors and behind-the-scenes employees at rates rarely seen, “Black Panther” has certainly increased representation of people of color in Hollywood. This representation generates a lot of interest in seeing the film. If seeing is believing, audiences may leave this movie feeling like they have more opportunities than they ever imagined. The film not only increases representation for people of color, but also a continent that is often stereotyped.
“Black Panther” allowed audiences to see people of color in positions of power and prestige. T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, is both a king and a superhero, and Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, is a respected spy for the kingdom of Wakanda. It is inspiring to see people of color portray these influential characters, and though audience members may not be able to be spies or superheroes, this movie sends the message that people of color can be leaders. This message is not only important for the people of color in the crowd who can see themselves in the characters, but also for white people so they too can recognize the power of people of color.
The representation of the continent of Africa in the film is also worth mentioning. People have a skewed view of Africa as being poor and having little technology, which is not the case. So many black and brown people across the world stem from this continent, and its representation in film has not reflected the potential of the continent. Wakanda, on the other hand, is far more technologically advanced than the United States and is rich in resources with bustling cities. Wakandans have been able to run their own successful society with little interaction with those who they refer to as “colonizers.” To showcase a nation as successful as Wakanda paints an entirely different picture of Africa for audiences. Just like seeing people of color in the starring roles of this movie proves to people of color that they can be leaders, a nation like Wakanda proves that places and systems can thrive under black leaders.
In the same way that people of color benefit from this representation, women in “Black Panther,” also excel. The movie provides a space for women to play roles in which they are not sexual objects; their characters in this film have a deeper meaning and purpose. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is a Wakandan warrior and is entrusted with protecting the king. Okoye is normally accompanied by the rest of Dora Milaje warriors, who are all women. Wakanda is protected by a group of female warriors, which communicates to audiences that women are strong, powerful and are capable of successfully filling roles normally held by men. Another female character that changes the narrative of women is Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Shuri is entrusted with Wakanda’s groundbreaking technology and developing new inventions and improvements. STEM fields are normally dominated by men, so to have much of the future of Wakanda resting in Shuri’s hands through technology is powerful. Women may not have been able to imagine themselves as strong or powerful enough to be warriors or equipped to enter male dominated career paths, but the women of “Black Panther” give them someone to look up to.
The excitement around the movie and all that it represents was present here on the University of Georgia’s campus. The Black Affairs Council, African Student Union, Black Male Leadership Society and the Black Theatrical Ensemble partnered to put on a “Black Panther” viewing event for students. Pryce Nwabude, a third year biology and psychology double major from Roswell, Ga., is the president of the Black Male Leadership Society and helped plan the event. With around 130 people in attendance, he described the event as exciting with some people even dressing up in preparation of the movie. Nwabude explained the anticipation for the film. “This being ‘Black Panther,’ a movie that’s predominantly people of color, and there hasn’t been a movie like this in the sense that the movie wasn’t solely targeted toward black people or wasn’t a slave type of movie.” Students from organizations across UGA’s campus were brought together by “Black Panther” and everything the film meant for them.
All of the excitement around the film and all it stands for has made it quite successful in the box office. “Black Panther” earned $201.8 million on the opening weekend, making this the biggest solo superhero movie launch of all time. It has also become the highest-grossing movie in North America directed by a black filmmaker. Worldwide, the film has made over $1 billion, and this number continues to grow as the film is released in more countries. With so many records broken in a short amount of time, it seems that people are enjoying the representation that the film provides.
“Black Panther” is one of the biggest releases of this year because of its monetary success and social context. It is the first time that this superhero’s full story is being introduced on the big screen, but the film represents so much more than a new character. People flock to theaters to support the actors of color, as well as the people of color behind the scenes. This film provides positive representation of black people, the continent of Africa and women. This positive representation draws crowds in at such large numbers that this movie is continually breaking records. If these trends continue, we will certainly be hearing about Wakanda, forever.