On Feb. 15, Marvel’s “Black Panther” was released to U.S. audiences. The film is the most recent addition to Marvel’s ever-expanding superhero franchise commonly known as MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The franchise is centered around a series of superhero movies based on classic characters such as Captain America, Spider-Man and bigger teams such as the Avengers.
“Black Panther” was greatly anticipated and has thus far received a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular American website for movie and television show reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, “Black Panther” is “on track to be the highest-rated superhero movie ever on our Tomatometer” with glowing reviews entering its opening weekend. The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes states: “Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU’s most absorbing stories — and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.” If nothing else, the audiences of America have embraced “Black Panther” and all it has to offer.
The amazing cast features Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, and Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a member of T’Challa’s personal guard and his romantic interest in the film. The couple’s chemistry can easily be seen on screen, and in an interview with E! Online, Nyong’o confessed on set the two are close friends and they had no trouble acting together. “Chadwick is truly a magnetic person. He’s magnetic! That was something I didn’t have to work very hard at — in fact, what I had to work hard at was pulling back,” Nyong’o said.
However, one doesn’t have to look far to see friction at the edges of this seemingly perfect movie release. There have been complaints made about the film’s predominantly black cast, which some say is an example of racism and exclusion instead of diversity. Infowars, an infamous radical conservative news website, claims the “Black Panther” movie actually caters to the alt-right, a loosely connected network of white supremacist Neo-Nazis. Infowars writer Paul Joseph Watson claims the fictional country of Wakanda can check all of the following alt-right boxes: ethno-state, homogenous, no immigration, nationalist, isolationist, protected by walls and exploits its own resources.
Unfortunately, this type of commentary undermines otherwise powerful messages within “Black Panther.” The predominantly black cast is historic for this country and for Hollywood. CNN reported, “Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is a movement,” and the story itself is one of the few times any African nation and its people, however fictional, have been portrayed with such sovereignty and rich cultural history. The New York Times even reported that movies like this “also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations. We have for centuries sought to either find or create a promised land where we would be untroubled by the criminal horrors of our American existence.”
The Black Panther character joined the Marvel lineup in the middle of the Civil Rights era and the turbulent 1960s, making him the first African superhero ever created. The film’s release is significant for civil rights activists, and yet even more mainstream modern audiences feel the film’s core messages resonate with them. For the first time, we are seeing actors of color in powerful roles. For the first time, people of color can see themselves in the actors on-screen.
We should not forget the power of a film about black superheroes, black warriors, black queens and kings, about an African nation untouched by colonialism and more technologically advanced than any other country in the world. At a time when police brutality is out of control and disproportionally affects people of color, when the alt-right has shown its face and its swastikas across the globe, and when xenophobic cries echo down the Washington steps themselves, we need more movies like “Black Panther.”