Excited for Black Panther? So are we. Which is why we’re rolling out obsessive coverage with Black Panther Week.
Contrary to the Gill Scott Heron/Vince Staples track scorching the Black Panther trailer, this movie’s revolution will be televised. It will be broadcast in movie theaters, on TV screens, and in the hearts and minds of audiences around the world who flocked to theaters to watch Hollywood’s first black superhero in action.
Until an embarrassingly recent time (and still in this moment, if we’re being realistic), Hollywood bigwigs hesitated to bet on women and people of color, especially in tentpole franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
They were mistaken.
Black Panther‘s massive success did not arrive in a vacuum. It is the product of decades of the film industry hindering visibility and representation of minority actors and characters. Audiences who craved to see themselves on-screen – who perhaps didn’t even know this was possible – grew slowly stronger and louder, until a deafening declaration (as loud as $218 million) showed we want and deserve more.
Black Panther is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first black superhero, but crucially, he’s the first non-white (or at least white-passing) superhero headlining his own movie period. In its two years of building hype, Black Panther became a bastion of inclusivity and empowerment for people of all colors in the audience.
Finally seeing Africa depicted in a powerful and positive light, free from the effects of colonialism, with characters that look like me having motivations beyond the portrayal of “black pain” on screen.#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe pic.twitter.com/nTEFHQM279
— Andrien 🛫 Wakanda (@EscoBlades) February 6, 2018
“Whenever the promo or the trailer would come on for the movie itself he would get visibly excited,” Sutton recalled in a phone interview with Mashable. Her son is a fan of the comics and TV shows, but his final reason for loving Black Panther was “he’s black like me.”
“It’s also been very humbling to see that and to put out there the thirst for more representation, not just for those in the black community but for any other community that is underrepresented as well,” Sutton said.
Also, as an actor, seeing roles that aren’t just “the black sidekick”, “the maid”, “the sassy black friend”, give me hope for my career. And as a nerd, I finally feel validated as a nerd of color. This is every childhood trauma finally being vindicated. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe
— Mica Burton 🔜 Katsucon (@MicaBurton) February 6, 2018
According to a 2017 study, roughly 30 percent of speaking roles in film were given to people of color (13.6 percent black, 5.7 percent Asian, 3.1 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent other). The numbers are worse for LGBTQ+ roles.
In 2015, writer Dylan Marron began taking stock of the dialogue spoken by people of color in popular films. Most of the dialogue totals per film – including Oscar darlings and major franchises Lord of the Rings – are under a minute. Marron specifically chose films that weren’t about race and that dealt with universal themes. They just happened to default to white characters.
“When you’re younger,” Marron said in 2015, “you don’t really have the tools to wonder why, or you don’t think to ask why. You just accept it as truth.”
The entire Harry Potter series runs 1,207 minutes. POC speak for 5 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s 0.47% which is represented by 12 characters (and 13 actors), two of whom are CGI. On average, each character speaks for 28.33 seconds. https://t.co/JeBjtU41Bk
— Dylan Marron (@dylanmarron) February 14, 2018
Sutton is Afro-Latina, so she’s experiencing the Black Panther hype as part of the black community and as a Latinx woman to whom this film represents the opportunity for more rich, diverse stories on screen. She cried when she saw the trailer in theaters (received with raucous applause) – the only other time she did that was for Coco.
To that end, film execs are taking notice. IMAX C.E.O. Greg Foster told The Hollywood Reporter this weekend: “Representation matters. Get Out, Wonder Woman, Coco and now Black Panther show Hollywood that authenticity and inclusiveness wins.” Black Panther‘s audience was widespread and diverse, and many of them may return for more diverse Marvel fare.
One Marvel fan, Marissa Tinsley, grew up a fan of the X-Men, so it was only through his MCU debut that Black Panther got her attention.
“It thrills me that BP brings us a movie where the cast isn’t all or majority white,” she told Mashable via email. “Makes for a sweet, long overdue change.”
As a non-black person of color, Tinsley said it “warms my little heart” to see widespread enthusiasm for the film. “We’ve always been required to insert ourselves into white narratives when it comes to mainstream cinema (or mainstream anything). It’s a nice change for others to have an opportunity – and not be scared – of experiencing other narratives and POVs.”
With Black Panther in such a pivotal position, the film is attracting viewers of all kinds – including those with no prior interest in superheroes or the MCU – like Brandon Jordan, whose sister works at Black Girls Create. Jordan only got into Marvel movies a few years ago and previously felt “out of place” when he couldn’t join in excitement for something like The Avengers.
“What this movie means to me personally is a sense of community throughout black culture,” Jordan told Mashable via email. “I always wondered if black music could go mainstream why couldn’t black movies and TV shows.”
Tinsley hopes that Black Panther “hits it out of the park.” As she pointed out, this isn’t a niche film.
“It’s a huge, big budget superhero movie filled with actors – who although they may not look like me – actually represent a more accurate reflection of my world and environment.”
While some say that Black Panther is just a movie, that it isn’t a tool of resistance or deus ex machina that will solve all Hollywood’s problems. And while that may be true, it would be a mistake for the film industry to return to its established status quo after such a colossal, if temporary, shift.
Black Panther is political. IDC. It’s not just a movie to me. It’s Black AF from director to the actors to the Afro-futurism all up and thru it. In a time where you feel hated just for existing, it means a lot to see Blackness celebrated like this. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe
— Knockout Ned 👊🏾🥋 (@DJTreG) February 6, 2018
“Maybe this is opening the doors for people to come in, characters that are of Latin descent or Asian descent – that for me has been the biggest response that’s what we feel like Black Panther is gonna do,” Sutton said. “That to me has been more meaningful to people; seeing that this is not just for the black community, [but] for anyone that is not white, really. This is huge for all of us because we’re getting that door open.”
While the average movie audience is about 50 percent white, Black Panther‘s opening weekend numbers were 65 percent of people of color (black viewership alone was up more than 20 percent). The audience breakdown was more equal than ever – 37 percent black, 35 percent white, 18 percent hispanic – proving that everyone shows up for what is ultimately just a damn good movie.
“It also makes me think that perhaps maybe more POC will have the opportunities to not only star in films, but also take the lead in their everyday sphere, inspire future generations, and just fucking be who they are,” Tinsley said. “Living their lives and stories and knowing that they’re universal and valuable.”
Black Panther is now in theaters.