So, Black Panther is like the King of the cinematic world right now, and the movie is still two weeks out. There goes the myth that black movies don’t sell to anyone except black people. The film has already broken several pre-release records including first day advance ticket sales, and it’s Fandango’s top-selling superhero film ever. Take that Superman and Batman.
I never quite understood that myth concerning the poor earning potential for films featuring black leads or themes. It’s so patently false. If I was being petty, I’d call it fake news – I know! Petty. I couldn’t help myself, okay?
But seriously, the numbers don’t lie. They certainly didn’t lie with last year’s runaway hit Girl’s Trip. The all black, all female buddy comedy grossed more than $140M worldwide with its $19M budget. And that’s just one recent example. There are a ton of others going, some going back decades: “Get Out,” “Hidden Figures,” “Bad Boys” and sequel, “Coming to America.”
Yet the myth persists. It’s still tough for black film makers and producers to get the green light for projects featuring people and themes of color. And it’s still tough to cast people of color in leading roles that don’t feature a cast of the same hue.
Things are changing, thanks to viral social media commentary and protests like 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite. Streaming movie services like Netflix have done their part to speed change by getting into the creative side of things. They’re churning out diverse series and original films like nobody’s business, but the big studios have been slower to respond.
Will the Film Community Soon Be Woke?
In comparison to TV in particular, the film community has been less agile and slower to adapt to changes in the media landscape; they seem to cling more tightly to the myths. For them, like most stereotypes, these myths linger like a bad smell, creating amorphous barriers to the development of more accurate and culturally sophisticated subject matter.
It’s sad. Even if the sole objective was to make money, the studios are leaving a lot of it on the table, as minority-led movies have proved time and again that they do in fact make money at the box office.
The few nuggets I’ve allowed myself to read from people who’ve seen and reviewed Black Panther have been overwhelmingly positive, and they’ve been tweets from white people unapologetically gushing over the film. I’m not surprised; my gut tells me it’s gonna be amazing.
For one thing, it had a black director, Ryan Coogler, of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” success, and a black screenwriter, Joe Robert Cole. That means something: nuance, cultural sensitivity, a very specific perspective, not to mention an expansive well of creative energy to be tapped and then flow unimpeded onto the big screen.
I think the world is ready for Wakanda, a completely isolated, totally self-sustaining, uber advanced black nation. Well, a good chunk of the world is, and the bits that aren’t can stay home and kvetch in a miserable, thankless attempt to stem the tide of progress.
‘Cuz, people? There’s no stopping this train. If this film is as big a hit as it’s shaping up to be, it’s gonna blow open a lot of doors, and about time too. Black people, people of color in general, are increasingly asserting their right to be. To be authentic, different, beautiful, complex, and to be in control of our own destinies. Destinies that manifest outside the tight confines of the socially acceptable outfits that we’ve outgrown but are often still forced to wear. And I’m not talking about those muscle hugging superhero costumes either.
Black Panther Means More
Black Panther is an African-American superhero movie, the first of its kind. But it’s empowering on so many levels that have less to do with examining the untapped possibilities of blackness through a black lens, and more to do with empowering women of color and opening doors to areas minorities have been denied senior-level access, like technology and science.
It speaks to so many universal themes, human themes, like the thirst for more and the obsession that can develop from that desire, the need to protect one’s family, or a keen desire to comport oneself with dignity and to hold those you love to the same high standard – and have them live up to it.
I’m ready to fall in love, for sure. My mouth has been metaphorically watering for months at the idea of a beautiful, technologically advanced Black civilization thousands of years old, coveted by the outside world. It’s not that much of a stretch when you think about how coveted many aspects of black culture are and have always been: music, styles in clothing and hair, even our identity – Rachel Dolezal. Cultural appropriation is a living, breathing, money misdirecting thing.
But more important, Black Panther is a triumph before it begins because it challenges the status quo in some major ways. It gives people of color a natural depth and a patina of surety and confidence that is absolutely intoxicating.
This film shows in technicolor that we can be regal, educated, at ease, not dirty and disheveled, speaking ebonics with a lisp and a mouthful of spit and rocks on the evening news. In Black Panther we’re laughing and sharing eloquent quips, not snotting and bawling in frustrated misery while standing over the needlessly slain corpse of a loved one. We are in power, and we are a strong, unshakeable community.
Is the Truth a Risk?
Some have said Marvel took a risk making the film. But to my mind it wasn’t a big one. For one thing, Chadwick Boseman is an amazing actor who got a very warm reception in “Capitan America: Civil War.” And his co-stars are like a who’s who of some of the most celebrated black actors in the game today: Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Daniel Kaluuya, etc.
Comparatively speaking, more people are interested in seeing this movie than in the President’s first State of the Union address, which aired on Tuesday. The third longest in history, it’s also the least watched address in nearly a quarter of a century. My friend Kate says that’s because more people relate to the film and its strong representation of people of color than they relate to POTUS. Given the success of ticket pre-sales, I’m inclined to agree.
What do you guys think? Is Black Panther a triumph in the making? Does it mean something more than just another superhero movie? Sound off in the comments.
And Feb 16th, hurry up already.