Black Panther smashes box office and challenges white privilege

With recent openings in China and Japan, Marvel’s Black Panther recently passed a big box office milestone, earning $1 billion worldwide.

The film is now the second-highest grossing superhero movie of all time, behind 2011’s Avengers.

Largely set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther centres on the titular character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Critics have praised it for presenting the Marvel formula in a new setting and in a ‘grown up’ fashion.

While not the first black Marvel character to have top billing (1998’s Blade holds that distinction), the film’s predominantly black cast has sparked a public discussion about diversity in Hollywood. Cast member Michael B. Jordan has indicated that his production company will adopt an ‘Inclusion Rider in all future projects.

To say that Black Panther has changed cinema is somewhat of an understatement, with many people weighing in on the importance of diversity in films. Mike Frost in his blog post If you can’t see why Black Panther is a big deal, maybe you need to check your white privilege says “Black Panther is an insight into white privilege, the sense that being white (and male) is normal, expected and unremarkable. There’s no big deal to seeing a white guy save the world from imminent doom because its what white guys do, according to Hollywood.”

Frost goes on to say that, “If, like me, you have to focus your attention to try to understand why Black Panther is a big deal, it only reveals your privileged position in society. Not getting why women needed to see a hero like Wonder Woman is privilege in action. Our privilege allows us to live in a world where movies are just entertainment, not moments of cultural importance.”

The film has created a watershed for black churches as well, with Religion News reporting that black churches are hosting screenings of the film: “Across the country — from California to Chicago to Virginia — members of black churches have bought out theaters for screenings and dressed in their favourite African attire to see a superhero who looks like them. And others, from a New York multicultural congregation to a Detroit Muslim professor, are also tapping into the movie’s messages they hope will be particularly affirming to young people of a range of races and religions.’

A long history

Around since the 1960s, the Black Panther character has a long history. The character shares his name with a black activist group, but held the name first.

Insights’ review of Black Panther praised the film’s cast, story, and setting:

Never before have I seen Africa and its intricate culture celebrated and shown in such a positive way on film.  How can a superhero film beat out bio-pics for truly embodying empowerment of a nation that has so long been fraught with the sentiments of weakness and corruption? Well, Black Panther did that.

With story plans already in motion for a Black Panther sequel, the character is set to play a big part in Marvel’s future plans. Wakanda will feature heavily in Avengers: Infinity War.

Black Panther is rated M and now showing in cinemas.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor




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