Black Panther: breaking racial boundaries

I sat behind two teenage boys sporting Wakanda Forever t-shirts in a theater filled to the brim. The anticipation was palpable in the air, and as the lights were turned down everyone began cheering. We were about to witness history on screen.

Marvel’s new movie Black Panther transports you to the mythical kingdom of Wakanda. A country in Africa untouched by colonization, Wakanda represents an Africa allowed to meet its full potential without its resources stripped away. Due to the help of a fictional mineral called vibranium, Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation in the world.

The ruler of Wakanda is the new king T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), otherwise known as the Black Panther. T’Challa has been forced to take on the throne after the death of his father and former king, T’Chaka. However, upon his arrival T’Challa discovers former American black-ops soldier Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (played by Michael B. Jordan) threatens his hold on Wakanda. With the help of his technologically savvy little sister Shuri, espionage Nakia, and CIA agent Everett K. Ross, T’Challa must protect his throne and prevent the world war Killmonger seeks.

Black Panther was amazing to watch from beginning to end, with great performances from its entire main cast. T’Challa is refreshingly human and vulnerable in comparison to other superheroes like Thor and Iron Man, who are so larger than life that they oftentimes fail to be truly relatable to audiences. Boseman brings a regal energy to the titular character but maintains his modesty. All of T’Challa’s fight scenes are incredible; Boseman truly lives up to the physicality of the Black Panther role.

However, T’Challa admittedly pales in comparison to characters like Shuri and Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite female fighting force. Actress Letitia Wright captured audience’s hearts with her performance as Shuri, who acts as both the movie’s comic relief and mastermind. Okoye is a female warrior that avoids stereotypes about female warriors being surly and cold. On the contrary, Okoye is warm, witty and caring to all those close to her and fiercely loyal to Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan stuns as the ferocious yet empathetic villain Killmonger. Jordan makes you hate Killmonger, but he also forces you to sympathize with Killmonger’s tragic backstory and in some instances even agree with his viewpoint.

Black Panther has the essentials of any superhero movie: a global threat, thrilling action scenes, superhero costumes and cheesy jokes. However, it differentiates itself with strong political messages and a celebration of blackness, especially commemorating different African cultures. Black Panther’s costume designs, music, settings, language, and countless other facets are drawn from all over the African continent and its diaspora. In a world that routinely ‘ghettoizes’ blackness and portrays African countries as desolate and poverty ridden, this movie showcases the beauty and integrity of  black people.

Growing up none of the characters in the cartoons I watched religiously truly represented me. The characters all had traits I aspired to emulate but their families did not look like mine, did not act like mine and did not even speak the same language as my family. It created this feeling of isolation within me, separating my reality from the world I saw on screen. As I grew older I realized I was not alone in this feeling- most of my friends were people of color and retold similar experiences.

If you are white, perhaps you have never felt this way. You may see people who look like you on screen everyday and those depictions are usually positive and accurately portray your experience. As a white person, you see endless possibilities of who you can be. The same cannot be said for people of color and LGBT individuals. We are either constantly excluded from media or depicted in a negative and inaccurate light. Now we are starting to see a change within media.

The representation of people of color on screen is not only valuable for us to feel visible and to affirm or own worth, but so others can understand and relate to us in a way they might not have before. This is why movies such as Black Panther are so important in terms of representation. The movie provides various black role models for youth and represents the experience of being black in not only America, but Africa as well. Not only does Black Panther provide strong male characters for children but female ones as well. The female characters in Black Panther all flourish in their own right and are never overshadowed by their male counterparts.

These movies are the ones audiences crave, we are tired of the same white male protagonists and the exclusion of minorities on screen. Black Panther is conquering at the box office making an astounding $242 million dollars its opening weekend and the second highest-four day opening weekend in movie history after Star Wars Force Awakens. The excuse that films featuring people of color do not produce profits for film production is unfounded. We need more movies like Black Panther because all children and young adults deserve to feel represented on screen, and thus visible to the world.