By Kurt Walker
The latest release in the Marvel Comics feature film franchise, Black Panther, was met with much fanfare unlike any other project of its kind. Since its February 16th release, the film has grossed over 700 million dollars to date and is expected to near or cross the billion dollar threshold by next week. According to CNBC from Marvel sources, BP is only the fourth film to gross $100 million dollars in consecutive weekends since its debut. It safe to assume that the Black Panther series will continue break all records of its Marvel Films banner mates. Theaters across the country were filled with all shades of people of color who witnessed a black superhero who was introduced in the Marvel Avengers series, to now have actor Chadwick Boseman lead a cast featuring veterans Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett and supported by Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, who teamed with director Ryan Coogler on two of his earlier films, Fruitvale Station and Creed. Coogler is now in the league of Hollywood icons such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. Unlike veteran film director Spike Lee, who is well known for examining and chronicling social issues and matters of race, Coogler subtly and some and at times directly, addressed various disparities and a legacy of racism and systematic oppression, through the guise of the BP’s antagonist Erik Killmonger that was exceptionally played by Jordan. Though the $200 million dollar plus budget was consumed with notable CGI effects throughout, it was this aspect of the film that left audiences in deep debate and discussion in regards to its characters and the conflicts they struggled with within BP. Laced with age old Shakespearean themes such as revenge, and the battle of the rightful heir to the throne, it was the fictitious African country of Wakanda, home of King T’Challa, and its secretive Xanaduesque society and its monopoly of the world’s most valuable metal, vibranium, that leads to the interests of outside parties that in the end are often undesirable to say the least.
With that being the historical case for many of the countries on the African continent, Wakanda’s connection with moviegoers, children and adults, is easily made and the suspension of disbelief is easily established causing the mission of the film’s antagonist and scheme of the protagonist to meet with audiences rooting for both. It is the allure of Wakanda’s perfection as it is established to be the most technologically advanced civilization through its unlocking of the secrets of vibranium and it being the world’s sole location of it makes it easy to see why it would be the envy of those nations wishing to possess it for a litany of purposes. Unfortunately as is the case, outsiders seek it for its ability to create the world’s most powerful weaponry as is the desire of Killmonger. But more than demonstrations of vibranium and its capabilities, audiences are caught up in witnessing a film that is accentuated with the beauty of the African landscape, but its customs, traditions, culture and people as well. As many films prior to BP encouraged throngs of filmgoers to don costumes and regalia in tribute to the film’s characters, audiences in the U.S. as well abroad had people of color in large numbers in the first time taking part in this aspect as well, not for the first time, but in record numbers. Since its debut, BP has inspired various social media memes that speak to favorite lines from the film, its characters, and even those actually booking flights to the fictitious country, only hoping it could be a real destination.
Of all of its achievements and distinctions that it will more than likely come award season, BP has and will be more notably remembered as the film that finally shifted the paradigm in Hollywood and the international film industry. No longer can the old stereotypical images and language be referenced to as the necessary ingredients to aid in the formulaic structure of what is deemed as black cinema. Through Coogler’s artistic abilities and sensibilities that was masterfully demonstrated in BP and by the work of his constructed team of wardrobe, costume and set designers, BP has moved the needle it terms of what can be done and what is also bankable in terms of subject matter and content, and area that has been largely and historically ignored in the world of cinema and television for that matter.
Early films like Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang and Coming to America moved the needle in its day. Coming to America, like BP, introduced us to Zamunda, another yet fictitious African country full of splendor, black royalty, economic resources and financial stability. Like Zamunda, Wakanda has awakened a yearning for such a place to exist. Not in a Hollywood story but in our own reality. With much of Africa depicted in the historically narrative as a continent full of strife, BP’s crowning achievement is it has heightened millions of children and adults of color to break free of the often negative stereotypical images of Africa. It is now up to us to make the next move and discover the Wakanda and Zamunda that exists in countries that are real and that we can actually book a flight to.