Black Panther is a big deal. In a time of year known for having poor movie turnout, it managed to turn in the third biggest 4-day weekend ever, making over $235 million. The estimated global launch was $404 million. Every social network saw a flood of praise and excitement as people saw the movie. Black Panther is a superhero movie at its finest. It has thrilling action but it is also brimming with heart. It has strong female characters, a complex villain, stunning costumes, and more. Marvel studio head Kevin Feige calls it the best film they’ve ever made.
But, of course, it’s so much more than a blockbuster superhero movie. Writer and activist Shaun King goes so far as to call it “one of the most important cultural moments in American history.” As a touchstone of important black cultural moments, he ranks it among Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the election of Barack Obama.
“My childhood was peppered with so much content that deliberately ignored black people or served to further stereotype black people,” writes Stereo Williams. In contrast, Black Panther builds on a trend of “purposeful assertions of blackness in the most visible mainstream platforms” as seen in things like Beyoncé’s “Formation” performance at Super Bowl 50 and films like Get Out. Black Panther, Williams asserts, is “like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence: a summation of all this black entertainment excellence we’ve been witnessing for years that the world is finally getting hip to.”
The relevance of this film is amplified by the particular point in time we find ourselves in. There has been a resurgence in racism, as the election of Donald Trump has made many hateful parties feel emboldened. It’s a time when the leader of the free world speaks disparagingly of people from countries in Africa. This film not only celebrates the rich and complex beauty, skill, strength, and wisdom of Africans, but also celebrates Africa itself and its own rich history.
This celebration of blackness and of Africa is particularly important for youth. In Wakanda, writes educator Pamela J. Haskins, “elements of Africa’s glorious past are reflected in its plot by displaying what African beauty and power could be without colonialism.” This empowers young people and helps them feel proud, Haskins says. As Michelle Obama tweeted, the movie lets young people “finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen.”
Marvel’s Feige says they are very open to Black Panther sequels and he “absolutely” would want director Ryan Coogler back at the helm. We can’t wait.