On February 16, 2018, Marvel in conjunction with Walt Disney Studios released the long-awaited comic book film, Black Panther. With a staggeringly positive release that continues to break box-office records, the film not only proves to push the boundaries of conventional comic book films but does so in a manner of stunningly visceral imagery that pays homage to various African cultures, jaw-dropping effects, and with an added bonus of evocative narratives that touch base on sociopolitical issues—it is no wonder why the MCUs first film with an African superhero lead has been critically acclaimed by movie critics and viewers alike.
The film revolves around the Black Panther’s origin story where the king, T’Challa, of fictional African country Wakanda (noted in Marvel lore as the most technologically advanced country in the world due to its abundant natural resources of vibranium) undergoes the traditional rites of passage as he ascends the throne while battling enemies that seek to threaten his reign. It showcases a refreshing take on African culture that is often a rarity in traditional Hollywood depictions of the subject itself.
From the music, to the language, and even to the simple scenes depicting that of Wakanda’s city-street lifestyle, Black Panther manages to change the narrative in a more positive, realistic light in comparison to what most Western films tend to portray of conventional African culture. With its rich cultural background executed in a tasteful manner, many moviegoers have noted that the story and characters cater to a more diverse audience and on an individual scale, many of the film’s reviewers have also raved about the positive representations Black Panther presents to people of color.
In a film comic-verse continuity with white heroes dominating the scene, the fact that Black Panther prevailed as a box-office hit from the onset of its release and over the weekend proves that there is a possibility of a shift that movie and marketing analysts may see for the next couple of months. Black Panther is a film that has the propensity to significantly impact a culture by shifting demographics among audiences while maintaining its focus on specific cultures and people who do not fit the traditionally dominant archetype with predominantly white characters who tend to only further serve a hegemonic status quo among the film industry.
ComScore, the global standard for 95% of the worldwide box-office reporting, reported an aggregated analysis on the demographic makeup of Black Panther’s domestic audience with a total of 37% African American, 35% Caucasian, and 18% Hispanic viewers in comparison to the average movie viewer statistics that are predominantly made up of 52% Caucasian, 21% Hispanic, and 15% African American viewers. What this shows us, is perhaps this shift can urge film production companies that the need for more racially and culturally diverse films is more relevant than ever.
“Black Panther has such a cultural impact. Its success shows the demand for films like this and how future films should strive to include more people of color, not just in side roles but also in major roles. The film was significant in its representation of people of color because there should be films like this marketed in everyday media in the same way any of its preceding movies were,” says CSUSB student, Sarah Vasquez.