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The Importance of Black Panther

It’s been about two months since the release of Marvel’s Black Panther and somehow, it’s still turning up a significant profit weekend after weekend. In fact, it just surpassed Titanic on the list of highest-grossing films of all time. This film is part of the Marvel Universe saga and ties in with other popular films like Captain America: Civil War, which could explain some of its popularity. But what makes this film stand out in the often cliché superhero genre is its primarily black cast. The film, starring Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, gives us a glimpse into the utopia in which the superhero reigns over. The country, Wakanda, is a fictional location is Africa that to the outside world appears to be a third-world nation, but happens to be far more advanced that it seems. Black Panther is a superhero far outside of the mainstream; he’s no Superman or Spiderman, and yet, this movie is a record-breaking phenomenon. This film gave the whitewashed superhero genre the diversity it desperately needed while also tying in politically charged ideas into the plot.

Initially, I didn’t have high expectations for this film; the last Marvel movie I saw was painfully unoriginal so I didn’t think this would be any better. The plot follows the classic “hero’s journey” formula but was somehow able to come across as fresh and interesting even with the overused tropes incorporated. But plot aside, there is no denying the cultural magnitude of this film. For one thing, it brought traditional African cultures into the spotlight, giving them exposure to an audience that was most likely ignorant to them before. From the music, costuming, and traditions in Black Panther, Wakanda seems to be a melting pot of several different African nations, like Uganda and Congo. For me, this was one of the few times I got to see African cultures being celebrated on screen. I never learned much about Africa in school and while I know that Wakanda is by no means a truly realistic representation of African countries, I still appreciated the authentic music, clothing, and traditions. Of course, this movie had no historical content but it did celebrate African cultures in a way I don’t think I’ve seen in any film yet.

And beyond the surface of just being a “good movie,” it was more politically poignant and complex than I expected it to be. When the movie started, I expected the Black Panther would have to face the villain that killed his father (classic hero cliché) so imagine my surprise when that villain was killed less than halfway through the movie. Instead, the Black Panther had to battle a nemesis that wasn’t objectively evil. Erik, played by Michael B. Jordan, was not your run-of-the-mill villain, plotting to destroy the world. He was a kid that grew up in Oakland, California during the time when the Rodney King riots got people thinking about the presence of oppression. Erik is actually similar to Malcolm X and the real Black Panthers because he wants power to fight back against his oppressors. The plot seems simple at first, an outside force invades the country to exploit its powerful and valuable resource. But really, the outside force (Erik) just wants to help black people oppressed globally stand a chance against the systematic racism that has always been present.

The importance of representation should never be undervalued as well. Here we have a whole demographic of people who never grew up with a superhero that looks like them to idolize. And now the world has Black Panther. And bonus: it was actually a captivating superhero movie, something that is hit or miss lately. I understand the objections to the film. It boasts about its female characters that, while being exceptionally independent and strong, are still part of a patriarchal society. It’s also very clearly pro-government since one of the Black Panther’s greatest allies is a US CIA agent. But just because the film isn’t set in a matriarchal world where women are dominant, doesn’t mean it can’t have feminist ideals. And it doesn’t have to be an anti-government, anarchist film for it to be progressive. What the movie sets out to do, it does well. Black Panther is a long overdue film that finally gave the black community representation. And while I wouldn’t call it “groundbreaking” or “revolutionary,” it is a captivating movie that sheds light on systematic racism while also entertaining its audience.

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