How Black Panther Empowers a Generation

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Courtesy of Forbes

On February 16th, 2018, the film Black Panther of Marvel Studios debuted in theatres across the country. In light of the tense political atmosphere of today’s society and the abundance of hate and ignorance being displayed, cinema truly has the power to positively impact audiences and emphasize the value of diversity in our culture.

The significance of Black Panther is not all in terms of its financial success, although it did dominate the box office by grossing 500 million dollars during its opening weekend. It is the progressive cultural ideals that the film highlights that has audiences raving. Black Panther features the first ever black superhero in a Marvel series. Black Panther’s original comics featured the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, and five decades later, the beloved characters of King T’Challa, the people of Wakanda, and Dora Milaje are finally being featured on the big screen, portrayed by Hollywood phenomena such as Academy Award winning actresses Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o, BAFTA winning actor Daniel Kaluuya for his breakout role in Get Out, Chadwick Boseman, and Michael B. Jordan. During the production of the film, the sense of cultural representation and the empowerment of marginalized communities was an essential priority, and this was powerfully reflected in the final outcome of the film. The message of cultural representation in the film sparked attention across social media and popular culture alike. The director of the film, Ryan Coogler, eloquently stated that “it is a chance for fans to see themselves reflected on the big screen, to feel like their stories are being told.” According to Lupita Nyong’o, who portrays the powerful warrior Nakia in the film, “Cinema has an opportunity to show us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we could go.”

This enlarging consideration in Hollywood’s cinematic industry of the importance of representation is a movement that is long overdue. In the past several decades, POC characters have often been portrayed by white actors in a way that reinforces cultural stereotypes, therefore degrading the importance of diversity in society and depriving films of their artistic and authentic vision. The most despicable examples of the failure to accurately portray POC characters in cinema include John Wayne’s Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell.

Black Panther’s success made a significant, propitious impact among people in contemporary society, as it portrayed POC characters in a manner that was particularly empowering for marginalized communities. The film is an iconic symbol of representation in motion for its fans across the world. The powerful cinematic masterpiece—a vision of black aesthetic—shows that black culture is something that should be cherished and embraced by all of society. The film represents and celebrates all aspects of African culture, such as traditional African culture, the beauty and strength of African women, the distinct hairstyles and vibrant clothing of African culture, as well as the gorgeous landscape of African geography, which is depicted in the film through the sloping hills and lush dark green woods of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda. The representation depicted in Black Panther can be referred to as a cultural haven to black audience members who have longed for adequate representation in the media; it is validation for the black communities who have been deprived of appreciation and recognition in popular culture.

Especially given today’s social climate of ignorance and the refusal to acknowledge and correct social ills, Black Panther shines through the darkness of intolerance like a ray of hope that one day, POC characters will be given the full empowerment they rightfully deserve and that society will change for the better. Black Panther’s superhero film gives the imperative message that individuals of marginalized communities can still be empowered despite the unstable nature of their surroundings.

 

-Naomi Vuong