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Why Black Panther changes everything

14th February 2018

In a society where black people need to prove that seeing blackness on the screen will not intimidate white audiences, Black Panther is already breaking records.

It’s received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and is already outselling previous superhero films before it’s even released. However, some of the dialogue around the film shows why black representation is so important and incredibly overdue.

BBC presenter Jeremy Vine is receiving criticism after an interview with two of the Black Panther stars. Vine sat down with Chadwick Boseman who plays Black Panther and Danai Gurira who plays Okoye and said: “Chadwick, it is a remarkable film, it’s very different the film that you’re both in because you go in the cinema and it is overwhelmingly a black cast.” Yes, it is rare to see a black cast in a Marvel film but the word “overwhelming” suggests it’s unusual for one race to dominate a film. Almost every Hollywood film has an “overwhelming” number of white actors, which just shows why a movie such as Black Panther is way overdue.

We’ve seen a rise in films with an increasingly black cast taking over Hollywood. Films such as Girls Trip, Hidden Figures and Fences have proved that black stories are not just made for black audiences but Black Panther stands out from the others as it is a Marvel film, which are known for having a universal audience.

As a black British African, I’m drawn to this film not only because of the cast but because of the way that Africa is portrayed

BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo worded this perfectly at the Black Panther Premiere: “Of course this film is for everyone but it is unapologetically BLACK.”

I for one I’m not the biggest Marvel fan and I know of a few other black people who have not seen previous Marvel movies but are excited about Black Panther. As a black British African, I’m drawn to this film not only because of the cast but because of the way that Africa is portrayed.

Black Panther
Black Panther is unusual not only because it is black, but because it is African 📸 Marvel

For many black British individuals, especially black British Africans, we’ve struggled with being able to relate to characters we see on TV and the big screen. In the past, the only relatable faces we saw in films were those of African American descent and we rarely saw any depictions of black Brits or Africans.

The film is very much unapologetically black — and, more importantly, it’s unapologetically African.

Often in movies, the blackness that is presented to us is that of European standards. We’re used to seeing black people with long straight hair and fairer skin as that’s the “acceptable” blackness. Darker-skinned black people are underrepresented compared to light-skinned black people and Black Panther shows the beauty in showcasing all black skin tones.

Though this is a fictional film, the portrayal of Africa in Black Panther is a rare example of Hollywood portraying the continent in a positive light. Usually, when Africa is shown on TV and films it’s associated with poverty, primitive behaviour and violence — and often features a white saviour.

Many westerners see Africa as a continent dependent on the West — when in fact, it’s just as true the other way around.

Black people are largely underrepresented in the technology world, which is ironic considering the resources that are found in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). DRC is rich with natural resources that make up crucial components of technological devices in the West. When you hear the words Africa and technology you often think of the lack of it, however, Black Panther is challenging this narrative. As someone of Congolese descent, this resonated with me deeply.

Black characters are so often relegated to being the sidekick, the wise mentor or villains

Similarly, Hollywood has also been limited in its one-dimensional representation of blackness, where black characters are so often relegated to being the sidekick, the wise mentor or villains created from a stereotype of black culture.

In this film, we see multidimensional representational of blackness. We see black people being the hero and the villain.

Black Panther also challenges the common portrayal of women in superhero films as the damsel in distress who needs saving, as the women in this film are from that. In addition, black women have long been associated with the stereotype of the “angry black woman” but in this film are powerful rather than angry, making Black Panther seem more real than previous Marvel movies.

The film combats a lot of harmful myths and stereotypes that have been perpetuated by Hollywood but it can’t tackle black representation all on its own. Having an all-black cast is refreshing — let’s just hope that we’re not still saying that in years to come.

14th February 2018