Black Panther: a step toward a more inclusive Hollywood

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“One of the things that sometimes comes with being [of African descent] is being made to be ashamed of being African and ashamed that your people live in these beautiful huts and ashamed that some of your people are running around with no shoes on and that when the music plays, we dance like no one’s watching,” director Ryan Coogler said in an article for The Los Angeles Times. “But that … is beautiful and we can be proud of it.”

Coogler projected his words and cultural pride onto the big screen with his most recent film. Based on the Marvel comic series of the same name, Black Panther tells the story of King T’Challa of Wakanda, played by Chadwick Boseman as he returns to Wakanda to claim the throne after his father’s death. He is whisked into high risk missions in order to capture illegal arms dealer Ulysses Klaue. Alongside Klaue is Erik Killmonger: an outsider who challenges T’Challa’s claim to throne. Black Panther must save his people from a threatening new reign and struggle with revealing the secret of Wakanda’s true power.

As is typical for a Marvel movie, the action, plot twists, acting, and comedy have contributed to the film’s success among its viewers. However, the film means more for some people; specifically the Black/African American community. Unlike most superhero movies, Black Panther has a mostly African American cast— a rare find in Hollywood.

“In our society, I feel like Black people aren’t really represented in pop culture; so when I saw the movie, I was really impressed because it had its own story to it— the whole Black Panther and Wakanda [concept], and they have all these resources,” said senior Savannah Young. “But what’s really good about it is that it has underlying messages basically about the things that affect us today, like how Wakanda is this utopian society, but they don’t help the people who are of the same ethnicity in other parts of the world; how we all originated from one place, but how Wakanda harbors all those resources and there are people out there still suffering. Black Panther brought up slavery, and mentioned the drugs and guns in Black communities today and how men are being shot in the street; [it] even brought up the Civil Rights Movement and how we struggled then… I feel like there’s just an underlying message within the whole thing regarding Black culture, Black history, and African Americans in the United States.”

As Savannah mentioned, the film did point to some of the struggles endured by the Black/African American community throughout history. Yet, rather than focusing on these, the film celebrates African culture through the world of Wakanda. Although Wakanda is not a real place, it resonates Black culture as seen by the people, the landscape, the costumes, chants, and music.

“It’s gotten to that point where slavery and historic Black movies, though they hold much significance to our culture, are overplayed. We’ve gotten so used to the only time a majority of the cast is played by black people is when they are being enslaved, or seen as inferior, or discriminated, or oppressed,” said senior Kelechi Ibeh. “Selma, 12 Years a Slave, [42], and many others are all really good, but Black Panther takes the Black community and idolizes them instead of illustrating them as a group of people in need.”

She continued, “Black Panther and the country of Wakanda hold so much power and strength, where African culture is courageously explored and represented. … Instead of seeing a Black cast as the product of a system of slavery and what’s left over from that depressing and outrageous time, we get to see what Black people were like before then— when we owned ourselves and our culture.”

Despite all their hard work, if not acting as Black Panther or a slave, African American actors and actresses are generally victims of racial stereotyping in their roles as well as lack of representation. Junior Tyler Conway said that he is proud that “our characters finally have complex roles that don’t feel like token minority roles.” Furthermore, Tyler offered the thought that it is good for young Black children to finally have an idol who they can look up to and see themselves as.

With movies like Black Panther, it seems as though the film industry is taking a step in the right direction toward more diversity on the big screen. “In a society where there is much discrimination and racial oppression, the film embodies the idea that minorities are capable of being successful,” said senior Justin Butron.

“Back then, you would’ve never seen something like this,” Savannah added. “I feel like this is the mark of Black excellence. Just keep on rising through the ranks, because I feel like after this there are going to be more Black movies.”

Putting it simply, Black Panther is a must-see film about representation, loyalty, and— most of all— empowerment.

“We want to see Black excellence, not Black negligence. We want to see a celebration of our culture,” Savannah concluded. “Now … we have Wakanda; we have our safe haven.”