Why Black Panther Is So Important
March 20th, 2018
When I walked into the BAM theater to see Black Panther, huge posters of fierce warriors clothed in carefully crafted armour, the likes of which I had never seen before, lined the front entrance and hallways. Women and men dressed to the nines in full “Wakanda” costume walked proudly up to the concession stands. I heard someone mention the fact that the movie was produced by Marvel. I was excited to see this movie that had swept the media by storm and elicited rave reviews from so many different people.
What I was to find out was that Black Panther is not just an action movie. It is an unforgettable showing of black power, a film that will not fail to empower every girl or woman that watches it, and a complex commentary on what we as a country owe to others. It is a thing of beauty, of controversy, and of gripping plot twists; it manages in one fell swoop to completely obliterate the boundaries of what is possible for a movie to accomplish and to change the way that future directors will shape, cast, and engineer films. In many more ways that one, it is revolutionary.
In almost all of the mainstream media that we see today, black characters are typecast, set aside for supporting roles that perpetuate stereotypes about African-American people and culture. White is considered the Hollywood “default”-- anything beyond that is an added plus for diversity. Movies that do center around black characters and struggles exist, but are any of them so widespread or integrated into American culture in the same, simple yet groundbreaking, way that Black Panther has?
Never before has there been a movie that functions both as a powerful and direct statement about American society and that provides the same suspenseful, dramatic, romantic, and gripping cinematography as the countless other action movies that Marvel has created. This movie is not one that vies for attention and commendation simply by putting one black character into a minor role; rather, it takes all the previously tightly held, dated, limited social norms about black characters in the media and redefines them unapologetically.
Women also take on a role in this movie that personally affected me, a girl growing up in an era full of blatantly misogynistic people in positions of power and unattainable beauty standards. Two of the things I loved the most about this movie were the portrayal of Wakanda’s army general (as well as that of the whole army) and the character of Nakia, T’Challa’s (the main character’s) younger sister.
The army general is a fully created character, smart, strong, independent, incredible in battle, unapologetically loyal and feminine; she has more than one layer, and women who are supporting characters in movies often fall into the same stereotyped roles-- especially black women. Nakia is a scientific genius, and her personal lab was full of mind-blowingly creative and exquisite pieces of Wakandan technology that are key parts of the storyline and outcome of the movie. At the same time, however, she is a teasing little sister, and the way that she was able to embody both of these roles in a unique and natural way was indescribably inspiring to me personally.
When individuals see their own faces mirrored on screens in theaters across the country, it makes a bigger difference than people realize. To some extent, people only believe they are capable of doing what their society tells them they can. And although Black Panther by no means decreased racism or stereotypes in American society, it did provide a stepping stone upon which hundreds of future movies can use to shape the world in their own way, hopefully to ultimately create a more equal and beautiful society.