Why the Black Community Needs ‘Black Panther’

Ayo Norman - Williams
Movies MCU
Movies MCU

Being black is tough right now. No matter where we go, it feels like the odds are stacked against us, and the world of film is no different. The lack of black representation in film has become a sensitive issue — and for good reason. Look back at the highest-grossing movies of the past few years. How many of those films starred black actors in meaningful roles or let black talent shine behind the camera? It’s easy to throw in a couple of black characters or hit meaningless diversity quotas. But that’s not changing anything. It’s insincere and far more harmful than it seems. That’s why Black Panther is so significant. It’s more than just empty promises and lip service; it’s genuine. Marvel is finally giving black creators the voice they’ve never had.

Black Creators and Moviegoers Finally Feel Empowered

In bringing Black Panther to life, Marvel has set a new standard for diverse film productions. These standards aren’t limited to on-screen talent. There’s a strong team of black creators behind the scenes as well. That includes the director, the writers, the production designer and the costume designer. People of colour get shafted all the time in the film industry, and that needs to change.

Black Panther is nothing short of empowering to black moviegoers everywhere. There’s been a tangible sense of pride and excitement in every online reaction. It’s different than the hype we usually see for big movies, too; this is more personal. Black people have waited their entire lives for a movie as bold as Black Panther. Finally, we’re being represented in a big way. At a time when black people are affirming their identities more than ever, it’s exactly what we need, to see ourselves in the spotlight — as heroes.

It Isn’t Just a “Black Film”

Every year, filmmakers make plenty of movies with all-black casts (and plenty more set in Africa). But what are these movies known as? “Black films.” Movies made by black people, for black people. The result of film’s failure to represent us. The problem lies in the fact that there’s a distinction between ‘films’ and ‘black films’ to begin with. Why does there have to be a whole black genre before we see ourselves represented? Black actors rarely get the same huge leading roles as their white counterparts. It’s a form of segregation and implies that we don’t fit into “normal” film.

Now, make no mistake, Marvel is not making a ‘black film’ here, they’re making a film. An African-set, superhero film with a large budget. That’s significant. They’re sending a message to the rest of Hollywood: films starring black people are films, too. That’s it. No labels required. They can have huge marketing pushes and appeal to everyone, not just black people.

Africa Is Proudly Showcased

Black Panther flying over Wakanda
We've never seen Africa portrayed like this before.

We’ve never seen Africa portrayed the way it is in Black Panther before, especially not on this scale. It’s so rare to see Africa and its people cast in a positive light. Hell, a lot of people have no idea what Africa is actually like. They’re unaware of its cultures, wealth and beauty. Many people laugh at memes steeped in racist African stereotypes without knowing any better.

Although Wakanda is a fictional nation, it presents a side of Africa that’s nonexistent in the media. Its visual design takes influences from traditional African design and combines them with ultra-futuristic technology, leading to a previously unexplored, Afrofuturistic style. It’s refreshing and necessary.

New Role Models for Kids

There’s one more group that Black Panther will impact, more than any other  — children. Growing up as a black geek is hard. It is disheartening to learn that none of the most popular characters in comics and film look like you. It’s even worse to discover this as a child.

That’s yet another reason why a movie like Black Panther is so important. From T’Challa to the badass, all-female Dora Milaje, the film is brimming with powerful, positive black role models. No longer will kids have to dress up as the “black versions” of other characters. Now, they’ll have black heroes of their own.

African Characters Get the Respect They Deserve

Black Panther in 'Captain America Civil War.'
Black Panther was arguably the standout character in 'Civil War.'

When Marvel announced that Black Panther would be making his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the news excited me. Yet, I still had my doubts; I assumed Marvel would trip up on the details. After all, he’s an African character being played and written by Americans. All it would take is some bad dialogue and a phony accent for him to become yet another caricature.

But then Captain America: Civil War came out, and Marvel proved me wrong. T’Challa had an excellent story arc in the movie, along with some great dialogue. His accent was authentic, to the point where I gasped when I first heard it. The way the MCU handled its first African hero, with so much respect and grace, was amazingly satisfying.

It’s the Change We Want to See

Black Panther cast posing for an Entertainment Weekly shoot.
We want to see more films with casts as diverse and accomplished as this one.

Black Panther is a milestone for black representation in film. Going forward, I want to see more studios follow Marvel’s lead. Give more black creators these massive opportunities. Cast more black lead actors. Show us that you care about representing the community who make up such an enormous part of your fanbase. Because it’s more than just black faces in a cast for us. It’s about seeing people who look like us being celebrated in a world which has done nothing but try to tear us down. It’s feeling proud of our culture, our traditions, and sharing them with the world. It’s knowing that what you look like won’t stop you from becoming a hero.

Ayo Norman - Williams
Ayo is a young animator/writer/aspiring games designer who finds it very difficult to write about himself in the third person.
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