Marvel’s Black Panther could not have been released at a better time.
Its début comes halfway through our national celebration of Black History Month.
This month gives observers the chance to recognize the achievements of African Americans – living and past – whose discoveries and deeds have reshaped our society and world. In a society where African Americans still face seemingly insurmountable hurdles in every area of life – from economic development to education to health and criminal justice – these 28 days of appreciation serve as a beacon of hope for many black Americans.
Giants in black history are often quoted in gatherings and speeches. Names from the Civil Rights Era like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X are spoken. Others from long ago like Harriet Tubman and from our current day – like Barack Obama are also noted.
But they all will have to make room among their ranks for the cast and producers of Black Panther.
This movie is not just opening in February to salute black history makers from the past – it is actively making its own history.
The blockbuster film has been creating a buzz in the entertainment industry for its record-breaking ticket presales – which is an unprecedented show of early success for a major motion picture that features majority-black cast.
But the power of Black Panther goes beyond its economic standing. It is unique in that it gives the world – and those in the African diaspora in particular – a revisionist history of Africa.
It reframes traditional tales of black success, breaks down the old mold of telling black history, and charts a new path forward.
As a fantastical action film, it brilliantly blurs the lines of reality, transcends the barriers of the real world, and challenges the audience to imagine a different account of black history.
First, Black Panther places Africa in power and emphasizes the wonderful resources that it can provide to the world. For too long, Africa has been painted as a third-world continent – one that is poor and downtrodden that it can only beg for help from other developed nations. Africa is a country filled with unshakeable pride in its people, heritage and accomplishments.
Wakanda, the kingdom featured in the film, flips the script. It has such a wealth of resources and technology that can improve the world. So much so, that the King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, has to decide how much of his country’s wealth he wants to share with other countries.
The audience sees a glimpse of what an African country might have achieved without the pillaging effects of colonization. The reality, of course, is that few African countries escaped European occupation, but the film encourages viewers to imagine what the world could have been like for Africa without this black stain in world history.
Second, Black Panther promotes pan-Africanism and celebrates all of those across the African diaspora. It tears down the geographic and cultural walls that have separated African Americans from those in their motherland. The plot weaves a beautiful story that connects the fabric of iconic American cities like Oakland, CA to the heart of an African country. It reminds us all that we are all brothers no matter our distance from one another or our history of separation.
Finally, the film is not just meaningful for black Americans. It features strong messages that can unite people of all races, backgrounds and creeds in the U.S. and abroad. A central theme in Black Panther was one of interconnectedness of humanity. Should one human turn a blind eye to the plight and suffering of another? Or, should that person do what is in their power to help those in need? The story has many implications for today’s society and world. As many developed nations deliberate on laws and policies that deal with the plight of foreigners and immigrants, who face a hard life in their native countries, the movie reminds global leaders to find a balance between keeping their citizens safe while also acknowledging the humanity of those who come from outside their borders.
When the dust settles from the excitement that this film created and when its sales and economic numbers are forgotten, the movie will continue to live on it the hearts of those who were inspired by the film to become change agents in their own communities and history makers in their own right.