Written By: Jeremiah Campoverde
On March 10, 2018, Black Panther, the 18th addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, became one of only 33 films to gross $1 billion worldwide. The film has become a defining phenomenon in the cultural zeitgeist. Children are already dressing up as their favorite characters. The film’s soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 list and has stayed at the top for three straight weeks. Everyone from movie critics to talking heads in the news, many have praised Black Panther for its superb acting, plot, and visual effects. Moreover all of this adulation illustrates two major points: the lack of minority representation within mass media and the power this representation wields when created. This is why Black Panther is so important.
Historically, superheroes in mass media, particularly in film, were white men. This trend stretches to the rest of the entertainment industry, in which the stories of white men and women were the only stories being told. Still today, minority-centric stories, the Get Outs, Wonder Womans, and Call Me By Your Names of the world, make headlines and cause such controversy simply because these stories did not exist ten years ago. Generations of individuals grew up without any identifying figure in entertainment. Without seeing oneself on the big screen (or on the TV screen), the individual is limited in the scope of his or her ambitions. Little girls do not grow up to be superheroes. Children of color, both boys and girls, do not grow up to be superheroes. LGBTQ+ children do not grow up to be superheroes. By creating minority characters and amplifying minority representation in American media, minority individuals see themselves as whatever and whoever they want to be, allowing them to strive for whatever dreams they have free from doubt.
Enter Black Panther.
What this film has done for minority representation is phenomenal. The film proved that a superhero film without a white male lead can be successful. Only white men served as leading characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to T’Challa’s introduction. Black Widow, one of the series most popular members, still has yet to receive her own film, thus relegating her to merely being a codependent background figure behind Iron Man and Captain America. Black Panther has so much to prove. Its predominantly black cast (save for two white characters in the entire film) allowed black audiences to identify with so many characters and offered black youth inspirational figures, to whom they may seek inspiration from when looking for a role model. T’Challa, Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are the epitome of black excellence.
Black Panther illustrates the power that comes with representation. The film itself is groundbreaking, but its massive success indicates an entire population who identify with and have longed for such heroes as T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia. Panther demonstrates how important it is to have diverse characters created in the entertainment industry. Entertainment is a reflection of reality. It aims to represent real life and tell stories of triumph and failure. With Black Panther, entertainment gets one step closer to actualizing the candor of real-life representation.