Black Panther is breaking records at the box office and despite having been nearly two months since its debut, we’re still talking about it. Usually, waiting to jump on the bandwagon and see or experience the latest in pop culture is a risky business because trends come and go quickly. Not so with Black Panther though. What might have seemed like fleeting hype is being affirmed now as lasting impact and for all the right reasons.
As a superhero movie, it has got everything you would expect: intense fight scenes, cool graphics, well-placed humour in between serious moments, and a protagonist the audience roots for from start to finish. But, Black Panther is unique in its success from other Marvel movies because it breaks through stereotypes most Hollywood movies reinforce unknowingly.
So, whether you are well-versed in the many awesome attributes of Black Panther or not, I think it is worth it to amplify the success of something you see is making a positive change in the world.
To me, the impact is in challenging stereotypes, three main ones to be exact.
1. White is NOT right (nor is it wrong for that matter).
From Captain America to Ant-Man, we see predominantly white actors and white female love interests dominate the silver screen. Sure, maybe that is how they were meant to be depicted from the outset as comic book characters but even so, it is hard to deny the lack of representation in both movies and comics for dark-skinned heroes and heroines.
Even when Hollywood films in general call for a role to be filled by a person of colour, it is rare for other more well-known stars of lighter skin not to steal the limelight. This is why when stars such as Amandla Stenberg said she purposely took herself out of the running in being cast for Black Panther to give her darker-skinned counterparts the space in the spotlight, it stands out from the norm. Black Panther features Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, and whole host of other talented black celebrities.
2. Women are NOT weak.
Other than the representation of people of colour, and specifically that of dark-skinned people of colour, there is a representation of women in the movie that defies the common trope of a damsel in distress. Quite the opposite, one of the first scenes of the movie we see T’Challa being saved in a mission by personal guard, Okoye. Okoye herself is an exceptional fighter whom you see in all her beauty and strength in later scenes.
T’Challa’s love interest Nakia has a will of her own. Passionate about pursuing humanitarian goals outside of Wakanda, she confidently speaks out about issues without needing a man’s affirmation or approval. Nakia’s agenda does not always aline with T’Challa’s (and for good reason) but this in no way detracts from the deep love the two have for one another.
Last but not least, Shuri, the younger sister of the Black Panther. I cannot express in words how utterly on point this girl is! With a sharp, witty sense of humour, Shuri is quick to poke fun but also educated to do it in the most classy way. Given her intelligence, Shuri is a technical wizard building all sorts of gadgets, one of which being the very suit Black Panther and Erik Killmonger wear in battle. Whoever said women in STEM sciences don’t kick-ass?
3. The West is NOT the best.
In Hollywood films, often depicted are idealized versions of Western lifestyle. The rich businessman looking slick in a suit and driving a nice convertible car. But richness and power can be celebrated in other forms. Black Panther highlights special African tradition that boasts roots from an entirely different background from that of Western culture.
For example, in the costume design for the female Wakandan guards, the gold rings they wear around their necks actually pays homage to a real African tribe in South Africa known as the Ndebele tribe. These rings, indzila, are worn by Ndebele women as gifts from their husbands once they get married and the more they have, the wealthier it signifies their husbands are.
As foreshadowing to Erik Killmonger’s identity and character, early in the movie he steals a mask from a museum in London. The mask he steals is inspired from mgbedike masks which are quite large in size and feature bold, exaggerated expressions to depict aggression. Mgbedike masks originate from the Igbo tribe in the country of Nigeria.
It is refreshing to see on the big screen cultural reference to a way of life that is not predominantly Western. This is because such overrepresentation gives the misguided notion that perhaps Western lifestyle and culture is the only one worth dreaming about. Black Panther affirms that no, it most definitely is not, and suggests opening our eyes to the colours that make other ways of life equally special.
So, in more ways than one, this Marvel movie isn’t just a movie. It is a bold statement challenging the norms and tropes of blockbuster films past featuring a set type of cast, in set gender roles and propagating a set culture. Additionally, the success of Black Panther is one all people of colour can celebrate and find inspiration from. If a movie like Black Panther can succeed, why not others?