7 Reasons Why Black Panther is a Groundbreaking Superhero Movie
Last night, my local cinema had queues stretching out of the door. Granted, it was a Saturday night, but I have never seen it so busy. When I asked one of the ushers which films people were proving to be most popular, she listed four: Darkest Hour, Three Billboards, The Shape of Water and Black Panther.
Looking at the schedule, the two films about to be screened at that time were Darkest Hour and Black Panther. Besides this physical demonstration of its success, the latter is doing exceptionally well at the box office too, and it’s set to continue with projected opening weekend takings reported to exceed initial estimations. In the UK alone, ticket sales on its opening day (13th February) achieved £2.67m, making Black Panther the the highest-grossing single day movie at the UK box office this year (source).
Black Panther's commercial success is worth celebrating, but more so are the radical, positive representations it creates. Here are some of the reasons why Ryan Coogler’s superhero film is a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and why it deserves even more praise:
1. The women in the film are protectors, innovators and highly intelligent.
Wakanda is a fictional African nation, but it uses and respects cultural ideas, beliefs and attitudes of other African countries tastefully. First of all, the language spoken by characters is Xhosa, which is one of South Africa’s official languages. Secondly, the costume design and set design is out of this world. The vibrant colours, textures and accessories are borrowed from actual African tribes and cultures. For a fascinating look at what black women Ruth Carter (costume designer) and Hannah Beachler (production designer) researched to create an authentic aesthetic, check out the oducer Nate Moore said that she is 'the smartest person in the world, smarter than Tony Stark'. Shuri will surely be a favourite among younger female viewers, but solo spin-off films for any of these characters would be very welcome!
2. African traditions are observed with sensitivity and tact.
Wakanda is a fictional African nation, but it uses and respects cultural ideas, beliefs and attitudes of other African countries tastefully. First of all, the language that spoken by characters is Xhosa, which is one of South Africa’s official languages. Secondly, the costume design and set design is out of this world. The vibrant colours, textures and accessories are borrowed from actual African tribes and cultures. For a fascinating look at what black women Ruth Carter (costume designer) and Hannah Beachler (production designer) researched to create an authentic aesthetic, check out the tweet thread below.
3. The superhero is black.
This may sound like an obvious statement to make but it's an important one. It signifies a long over-due change in the representation of black people in mainstream film.
Looking at the taglines alone, you can see how prominent the Black Panther is as a leader:
Long live the king.
Hero. Legend. King.
A king will rise.
The Avengers have a new king.
The character of T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) grows as he experiences and learns from failure, he is socially responsible, he values family, he is open to compromise, he is proud to be a Wakandan. This character is a role model and it solidifies the idea that young black people can be heroes too...
4. Black Panther provides black children with positive role models
Around the globe, campaigns have succeeded in getting children to cinemas to see this film. An initial GoFundMe campaign started by a New York man was picked up and backed by Ellen DeGeneres so all donations are now going to Boys & Girls Club of Harlem.
This statement on the GoFundMe page summarises the film's importance excellently:
'The release of Marvel's film the "Black Panther" is a rare opportunity for young students (primarily of color) to see a black major cinematic and comic book character come to life. This representation is truly fundamental for young people, especially those who are often underserved, unprivileged, and marginalized both nationally and globally.'
The organiser Frederick Joseph launched the #BlackPantherChallenge with incredible results. People have either donated, started a campaign in their own community (see image) or shared the link online.
5. The soundtrack for the film was curated by Kendrick Lemar
Ryan Coogler's choice of Kendrick Lemar to produce a soundtrack for Black Panther just makes sense. A contemporary black artist with his finger on the pulse of a generation, with the help of his TDE record label, collated and executed forty-nine minutes of music covering a wide range of artists of the African diaspora.
Releasing the soundtrack days before the release of the film gave an already-eager audience a glimpse into what Black Panther would sound like and the opportunity to imagine which scenes would sync up with which songs.
BBC Radio 1Xtra's Ace hosted a listening party for the soundtrack to the film, which you can listen back to here.
6. Premieres have taken place in Africa
While we might usually associate mainstream film premieres with places like London, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles and New York, Black Panther has challenged this notion by having high profile premieres in Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa with some of the film's actors flying to Johannesburg for the premiere there especially.
Not only is this important for many stars of the film who have personal links with countries in Africa (Lupita Nyong’o started her career in Nairobi, Kenya; Danai Gurira spent some of her childhood in Zimbabwe; Daniel Kaluuya's family are Ugandan; Florence Kasumba was born in Kampala, Uganda), but it also acts as an opportunity to put more countries on the 'film map'.
7. The female Director of Photography is incredible
Rachel Morrison is an accomplished cinematographer, was the first woman to be recognised and nominated in the 'Best Cinematography' Oscar category for 2017's Mudbound and she has previously worked with Michael B Jordan and Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station. Her work on this film is stunning, but instead of trying to describe it here, watch the trailer for yourself below and book tickets to see Black Panther while it's showing in cinemas. Wakanda forever!