Cultural game-changer ‘Black Panther’ re-defines moviemaking

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..Black Panther/T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

Wakanda forever! Let’s see, what can I say that hasn’t already been said about Black Panther. The adjectives are almost endless. Churches have taken parishioners by the busloads to see the blockbuster. Celebrities like Kendrick Lamar and Octavia Spencer bought out entire movie theaters for kids to see the film.

The movie has also given Afrofuturism and the black sci-fi genre a powerful kick to the geeks united squad. Black Panther is a lot more than just another top-flight comic book hero made good on the big screen flick. It is a social awakening to a lot of people.

To some, Black Panther represents a cultural shift in how black characters are portrayed in film and television. It is no coincidence that the release of Black Panther took place during Black History Month. To be sure, Marvel played its hand right on this one. The success of Black Panther will now turn into a box-office blitz for Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

From the importation of the talent in the film to the demographics and storyline to the unparalleled marketing strategy and its fine-tuned media and community tours, Black Panther had no other option but to be a success. That might be an understatement when looking at the stupendous financial run Black Panther has had thus far.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Ph: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

With the bombardment of all the new-age techie stuff, Star Wars-like air toys flying around and having a Dream Team line of actors to ensure the film’s authentic flavor, it cost (according to reports) an estimated $200 million to make Black Panther. Marvel got their money returned on their expensive investment during Opening Weekend when Black Panther pulled in just over $202 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Black Panther then turned the four-day holiday into a $242 million windfall. With over $675 million (and counting) in the bank from ticket sales domestically, Black Panther has done the unthinkable by going over the $1 billion ($1.3 billion) mark in worldwide sales. I guess the hype mattered in this case. The success of Black Panther can be tied to both a social and cultural metamorphosis in thinking from moviegoers.

And why does that matter? One reason is that people want to see themselves on the big screen. The moviegoing experience can’t always be about a celebration of one group of people. The United States nor the rest of the world is reflective of that. So, in a movie genre where giant robots, aliens, monsters and cape crusaders muscle their way to the top of the box office charts routinely, seeing a superhero of color is a big deal.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

An even bigger deal is the marketability and enormous financial windfall that Black Panther has generated. The idea of a black superhero garnering as much love and adoration as Black Panther has tells us that diversity can be a good thing at the box office. It also helps to have a superb marketing strategy and great material to pull from.

Another angle that Black Panther has benefitted from is having an already swelled underground cult following since the character’s inception into the Marvel universe. For millennials and Generation Z, this very well could be their Roots moment, but in a very different way. What they’re getting is a prime look at Black excellence with a pre-dominant Black cast, a theme depicted on television and in the film industry with rarity.

The glory of Black Panther coming to fruition is like someone actually being able to capture a hummingbird in full glide with their bare hands. It just doesn’t happen.A large dose of kudos has to go to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for making this all happen in the first place. Lee and Kirby created Black Panther back in 1966. Some 52 years later, their creation appears to have re-awoken a Black consciousness movement through their artwork.

Now, Lee and Kirby may not take credit in the re-emergence of Black Pride bubbling throughout the country, but certainly, their film has generated a social and cultural a buzz unlike anything else we’ve seen outside of the epic, coming-of-age portrayal of black life that Alex Haley gave us with Roots back in 1977.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

I’ve seen the Marvel Studios film twice already and may see it again on the big screen. But I’m not going to lie. The first time around, I had some trepidation about the film simply because there was so much hype around the epic animated picture that I was afraid the movie may not live up to full-blitz marketing that Marvel and The Walt Disney Company were putting out.

I also didn’t know what to expect. The buzz over Black Panther had almost gotten to the point of overkill with anticipation when it finally hit theaters in mid-February, but I still felt out of the animated loop about the true essence of the Black Panther.

Outside of the few Black Panther comic books I used to collect, I knew very little of King T’Challa other than he was black and looked very sleek, regal and cool in the custom outfits representing his namesake. Watching the film was my “wow” moment as well as it has been for so many people. I felt an ushering of self-pride and achievement through what was portrayed on the big screen.

I know, it’s just a movie some people will lament. But for me, my family and the black community, Black Panther represents something a whole lot more. When you take into the consideration the massive struggle of acceptability of African Americans in this country, from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the social state this nation is currently in now, Black Panther is a cultivated game-changer when it comes to identifying black progress.

Or is it? It could be that Black Panther is a one-hit wonder. I doubt it, though. Looking at the trend of black-themed films that have torn down moviemaking walls over the last couple of years (Straight Outta Compton, Girls Trip, Get Out), and now Black Panther, this suggests to me that the wave is far from cresting and could turn into a Tsunami.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1227 Articles
Dennis is a longtime sports, news and entertainment photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on subjects such as civil rights, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in various publications across the country. As editor and publisher of News4usonline, he currently covers the NFL (Rams, Chargers), NBA (Clippers, Lakers), Major League Baseball (Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). Dennis is a proud alum of Howard University.