Marvel’s latest superhero film Black Panther hit the big screens earlier this year, quickly breaking records as the top grossing film in history with a majority black cast, and black director.
The film centres around the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Outside of the secretive nation, it’s presumed to be a struggling third-world country.
In actuality, Wakanda is developed far beyond any other country in the world, in part because of its possession of the powerful metallic substance, Vibranium. For those of you who don’t know, this is the same stuff that’s found in Captain America’s shield. It’s also the core material of every piece of advanced technology within the nation.
Plot wise, the film doesn’t stray too far from Marvel’s tried and true superhero film formula (good guy + big bad + common interest). If you’ve seen a Marvel film in the last decade, you’ll know roughly what to expect.
The film’s hero and villain, a Wakandan and an American respectively, are battling over the throne of Wakanda, and both have very different ideas about the direction of the country.
T’Challa, the Black Panther, wants to uphold Wakanda’s ancient tradition, and is unwilling to help people outside of his secluded nation, which would risk it’s discovery and safety. Killmonger, on the other hand, is the child of an exiled and murdered Wakadan living in the United States. He wants the world to know Wakanda’s name through the empowerment of black people around the world.
However, living in the United States, Killmonger has witnessed the struggle of his people. He has harboured a deep resentment to those keeping them oppressed, as well as towards the Wakandan tradition that murdered his father and prevents Wakanda from providing aid to black people outside of the nation.
Within his mission, Killmonger seeks to not only risk Wakanda’s safety, but also to oppress his oppressors, something which T’Challa argues goes against the Wakandan way. This theme of tradition versus innovation plays a large role in the film and it’s deeper meaning.
The charm of the film lies in the smaller details sprinkled throughout its two hour and 15 minute runtime. Costumes and outfits are a unique blend of sci-fi and African influences. Shots of the film’s main location, the futuristic African nation of Wakanda, are juxtaposed with shots of Killmonger’s childhood home, a rundown housing project in America.
All of these small details share the common element of black representation. It’s obvious that the film is made by black people, to represent black people.
According to the NY times, Imax entertainment chief Greg Foster credits the growing popularity of the film to a “strong word of mouth and a deeply loyal core fan base.”
The black representation is something that is not recognized by most viewers, but holds a deep importance. For the first time in, well… ever, we are seeing the mainstream entertainment industry representing Africa as something advanced, powerful and heroic. Wakanda is portrayed as a futuristic and powerful metropolitan city. This is in deep contrast to the stereotypical portrayal of Africa as being filled with destitute slums or villages in need of foreign aid.
For black youth watching the film, they are seeing themselves and their culture represented as something positive, something being celebrated by the entire world.