Jamil Smith in his article titled “The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther” in Time Magazine, says that “Hollywood has never produced a blockbuster this splendidly black.” Following this, one can say that the film Black Panther is restructuring—removing even, the concept of an other based on color—the “black,” and holding it up proud in the face of a state where the vision of a thriving multicolored community is becoming blurrier and blurrier.
With 1.2 billion US dollars worldwide, Black Panther is breaking the box office and pushing film distributor Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures past the 1 billion USD box office mark. Multiple critics and reviews claim that Black Panther “is just as engaging to think about as it is to watch.” With critical sociocultural undertones, Black Panther leaves its viewers with a thought-provoking Afro futuristic view on African development and culture. The movie itself is the highest grossing film with a predominantly black cast, and the highest grossing film by a black director. What exactly can we learn from this momentous film that is breaking boundaries as we speak?
History: Black Power, Black Panther
The Marvel Universe’s Black Panther character was born in the civil rights era when the black activist Stokely Carmichael, a few months after the death of Malcolm X, encouraged his peers to be militant in their pursuit of black ideals and eventually coined the term “black power.” “Black Power” stood for the empowerment of the colored individual, a sort of individual realization and collective effort of overthrowing the white oppressor. This was a time when tensions were high due to an America that, despite its grand and lofty promises of progress for people of all colors of skin, delivered so little. This was a time when a third of the nation’s poor were African Americans, and the majority of those in power didn’t seem to give much more than a glance towards their direction. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did not consciously base the character of King T’Challa (the Black Panther) on the calls of Carmichael, but easily, the image held power in a trying time.
When threatened with invaders at the borders of Wakanda (the highly-developed Africa that is the empire of the Black Panther), the rallying cry of King T’Challa is not a loud, verbose yell typical of the Hulk, but a rather calm, confident remark of “Let them try.” This portrays so much—that King T’Challa is a strong and an intelligent black individual, but at the same time, he is not scrambling or desperately searching for control—he already is in control.
Black Panther (2018) and Trump’s America
With the 2018 film’s release, social conditions resemble somewhat the first time the character of the Black Panther was introduced. Breaching into Trump’s America which believes in the mission that is to “Make America Great Again,” and pursues this by targeting immigrants from the Southern and Central Americas as well as predominantly Muslim countries, Coogler’s Black Panther continues the character’s history of providing a strong anchor for the hope of minorities, with the film’s imagery and symbolism while also subtly challenging the status quo.
The message within the film
Black Panther offers viewers a fresh, innovative and compelling perspective into the could-have-beens and what-ifs of African development. In the style of the captivating and much-beloved fiction that the Marvel universe is known for ever since the first Iron Man came out, Black Panther presents the idea of an Africa that was not derailed by over 400 years of slavery and racial oppression. In its narrative, we can observe a society that exceeds the technological advancement and economic process of even those countries that are established superpowers today such as the United States.
The film has left, and is continuously making, a tremendous impact on different communities worldwide. Like what it did during its origins that were rooted in tumultuous social conditions, the Black Panther of 2018 is so much more than just a clever piece of fiction and flashy cinematography or art styles. It is a rallying cry for colored minorities in the midst of a violently changing tempest that is the social conditions of the present day. It is an unperturbed reassurance that people of all colors will hold strong despite the many challenges that meet them. It is those three words: “Let them try.”