April 20, 2018

The Impact of “Black Panther”

Jacob Bier ‘19

It’s strange to think that what may be the most inspiring film of the century prominently features a battle with computer-generated rhinos.
On February 16, “Black Panther” exploded onto the screen, and its box office numbers have been exploding as well. The film made $200 million on its first weekend, the fifth highest box office opening in the US and Canada ever. “Black Panther” is on track to make $1 billion worldwide.  The film is also experiencing critical successes, with a 97% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making“Black Panther” the highest rated superhero movie of all time.
There is a lot to love about this movie. It’s directed by Ryan Coogler, who gained fame a few years ago when he directed “Creed.” It has a great cast, including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Forest Whitaker. It’s visually stunning, its plot is compelling, and it’s a hell of a good time.
The film, set in the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows T’Challa (Boseman), the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Wakanda is portrayed as the most technologically advanced country in the world, thanks to a powerful metal called Vibranium. The country is hidden from the rest of the world, making most of the world think that Wakanda is a third world country. T’Challa believes in keeping with Wakandan tradition and keeping the country hidden away, not sharing any Wakandan technology with the world. Over the course of the film, T’Challa has to face off against Erik Killmonger (Jordan), who believes that Wakanda should send its technology to black people around the world, so they can rise up against their white oppressors.
One of the reasons “Black Panther” is so compelling is that most audience members are not always rooting for the hero. Both T’Challa and Killmonger have valid arguments, to a point. While T’Challa is noble and patriotic, he is refusing to let Wakanda help the world. And while Killmonger wants the country to spread its technology, he essentially wants to start a race war.
Killmonger is one of the most memorable Marvel villains. For one, he is extremely relatable to most audiences: he is an American looking for change. That, combined with the character’s tragic backstory and Jordan’s magnificent acting, probably make Killmonger the best Marvel villain since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in “The Avengers.”
“It is rare that I root for both the hero and the villain in a movie,” said junior Itai Rekem, “but both characters were so interesting and well-acted.”
The film has many more terrific characters. M’Baku, the leader of a Wakandan tribe, manages to be extremely intimidating and funny. Andy Serkis’ Klaw is a fun, dastardly villain. And fan-favorite Shuri, T’Challa’s genius little sister, has many memorable quips and jokes.
“Black Panther” seamlessly switches from drama to comedy,” said junior Aaron Lavitsky.
But even more impressive than the onscreen accomplishments of the film is its effect on the world. Never before has there been such a successful superhero film that has celebrated African heritage and culture. Although Wakanda is fictional, it has inspired black Americans to be proud of their heritage. African clothing sales have gone through the roof following the film’s release. Some predominantly black schools are even taking their students to see “Black Panther,” because it shows young, black children that not all kings and superheroes are white.
Of course, and unfortunately, a movie that celebrates and focuses on a certain race will garner some backlash. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro ranted about the world’s excitement for the film before it was released.
"We've heard it's deeply important to millions of black Americans, who, after all, were not liberated from slavery 200 years ago, and liberated by the civil rights movement with federal legislation, and have not been gradually restored to what always should have been full civil rights in the United States. None of that has mattered up until they made a Marvel movie about a superhero, who is black, in a country filled with black people."
Shapiro’s sarcasm seems to suggest that he believes slavery and the Civil Rights Movement are now meaningless to black people, and that “Black Panther” will be seen among as a defining moment in black history.
No explanation is needed to show that this argument is ridiculous. “It’s just a movie,” Junior Sam Lurie said in response to Shapiro. “People are allowed to be excited to see it.”
What’s interesting, however, is that Shapiro said all of these things prior to the movie’s release. After the film came out, conservative critics started singing a different tune.
When the movie was released, Breitbart published a positive review of the film with the headline “The Movie’s Hero is Trump, the Villain is Black Lives Matter.” The article argues that, like President Trump, T’Challa wants to close the borders of his country to protect his people from the outside world. In other words, ‘Wakanda First.’ It says that Killmonger, like Black Lives Matter, wants to attack white people and create a superior black ruling class. Many Trump supporters are angry that liberals are saying that when Trump wants to put ‘America first,’ he is wrong, but when T’Challa does the same thing, he is a hero
Yes, T’Challa is similar to Donald Trump. But these conservative writers are forgetting something that happens at the end of the movie: T’Challa changes his mind. In a mid-credits scene, he appears before the United Nations, ready to reveal Wakanda’s technology to the world. He builds an outreach center in Oakland, right where Killmonger grew up. T’Challa has done what Donald Trump will not: opened his country’s borders.
“I feel like if you are going to make the point that T’Challa and Trump are similar, you have to tell the whole story,” Junior Aaron Lavitsky said. “The fact that T’Challa changes at the end undermines the whole argument.”

Of course, this is still a fictional movie. Nevertheless, it is clear that the made-up tale of Black Panther and Wakanda has heavily influenced the real world.  

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