Black Panther has been a staple in Marvel – in either his own run or guest spots in other superhero comics – since his first appearance in 1966. True, he is not the only comic book superhero or even the first black superhero to get his own movie. His presence in the pop culture consciousness is vital now more than ever. The new installation into the MCU by director Ryan Coogler – only his third film I might add – stars a plethora of great actors and actresses and can be considered as a rally point for the African and African American community.
Why a rally point you might ask? Because not only will this movie show those communities some positivity by way of an action superhero film, but it will pave the way for other films like this for other minorities.
Some Black Superhero Film History
Black comic book superheroes, or even black action heroes, have been on the big and small screen for quite some time. You can argue that the idea of a black action hero could’ve been seen in characters like Shaft, Superfly, Black Cesar, and Dolomite, but some of them can been seen in a negative light—pimps or drug pushers—regardless of how good their intentions were.
Well, Shaft is the exception.
There has been a run of black superheroes on the small screen in the past, like M.A.N.T.I.S—you know that was a deep cut—and have recently been in acclaimed shows like Luke Cage and Black Lightning.
As mentioned earlier, black superheroes have been on the big screen well before Black Panther with the likes of 1997’s film Steel based off the DC Superhero. The film was made at the height basketball player Shaquille O’Neal’s popularity, but the film was utter garbage. Another example of these films being given a shitty treatment of production or seen as a parody were 1993’s Meteor Man and 1994’s Blankman. How was anyone supposed to find these films entertaining?
Later, these types of films were given a more serious touch in 1997’s Spawn, 1998-2004’s Blade Trilogy, and most recently 2008’s Hancock, and 2016’s Slight. Even though those films were led by strong characters, you still noticed that idea of a strong film, led by its cast and engaging story was left out and an opportunity to make something truly special was missed.
There had been earlier attempts to get Black Panther his own feature, with reports coming in that Wesley Snipes tried to get a film made in the 90s. It wasn’t until the inclusion of the character in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War that really set everything off to where we are today.
What the African and African American communities have been wanting and are now getting in their comic book superhero films is what white people have been getting since the start — escapism in the form of a fun relatable superhero film that doesn’t look like trash and has an all-around cast that looks like us. Sure, you can argue about some of the previous superhero films that were mentioned earlier, but they often turn into a level of buffoonery that makes them forgettable.
Black Panther is to black people as Iron Man is to white people; a damn good time with some great action sequences, while also giving the audience a level of empowerment, thoughtfulness, encouraging, and positive without it being corny or played for laughs. Something that is different than the typical slave, oppression, gang related, or any other black film that paints the African community in a negative light.
What this film may also do is open the door for other minority comic book characters to get their own time on the big screen. For far too long has Hollywood said that films featuring a mostly minority cast was not profitable across the seas in other countries. We have been getting a strong example of this no longer being true with the Fast and Furious films. Even though they may be dumb action films, the cast largely consists of a variety of people of color.
But let’s talk about other comic book characters that can make it in the big screen that are minorities:
Doctor Voodoo would be another great add on to the MCU. His powers rivals that of Dr. Strange and can be another entry into the mystical side of the MCU. Superheroes that are Latino also have made it on the pages of Marvel and DC. On the Marvel side, we got America Chavez (AKA Miss America) who is a lesbian Latino that is bad ass in her own right. Even though WB/DC has been having a series of missteps with their films, it couldn’t hurt to include Jamie Reyes otherwise known as Blue Beetle in the mix and can help cover the young teen market because of the character’s relatable age.
Black Panther can also give the opportunity of superheroes of Asian descent to appear on the big screen like Shan-Chi, Kamala Kahn (AKA Ms. Marvel), Avery Ho (another speedster set in the DC), Valant Comics’ Dr. Mirage, and Ryan Choi (another version of The Atom) just to name a few.
Look, the point I’m trying to make is that Black Panther is history in the making and can lead to other superhero films to make history as well. The African and African American communities have had to watch people of their same background being depicted in a negative light and it passing as “entertainment”. We’ve had to take this treatment like it was done in our favor. True that some of the stories of adversity people of color have had to overcome in life was okay for the time being, but now it’s time for something new.
Sure, people want to cry and moan about it, and are even purposely trying to bring Black Panther’s Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb score down for the stupidest reasons, including wanting to call this movie racist because there are maybe two white people in it. But seriously. Y’all have Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and so many others that are all white. It’s time for us to be represented.
Black Panther is a new step for Marvel and blockbuster films in general. The African and African American communities are ready for a change and it’s time for you to be too.