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Black Panther and the Responsibility of a Black Super Hero

Marvel's

BLACK PANTHER

The Responsibilty of the Black Superhero Movie

BY JOE WALKER

Responsibility. No movie based on a comic book character should have so

much. Yet that’s the burden of Marvel’s Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman in the lead role. A character created by legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, it took the first black superhero in the history ofmainstream comics 50 years to appear in a movie. After an impressive debutin 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as a supporting yet integral role player,tremendous anticipation began to mount for Panther’s 2018 solo outing. Withits Black History Month theatrical release (February 16, 2018) he has a greatdeal of opposition to contend with.

Sought after comic illustrator and writer Corey “Roc Bottom” Davis ofTruthful Comics believes it’s the right time to have a proper depictionof a stout black superhero. “We live in an age where diversity isimportant now more than ever,” says the South Carolina native andcreator of Jet Boy, another popular Black superhero. “We've seenIron Man on the big screen, we've seen Captain America on thebig screen. And with that we’ve seen the diversity. But one issue:the black men were sidekicks. We've seen Wonder Womanhold her own so far as a lead heroine, and the time for anestablished black male superhero in the age of diversity islong overdue.”

Onscreen Black Panther must battle fictional villainswielding high-tech weapons. He’ll also tussle with theramifications of his decisions. Off screen he faces

"This film will be a cultural boost for our self-esteem as a people."

A BATTLE FOR POWER

Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa a.k.a Black Panther faces off with

Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan.

very real social and cultural expectations. A subject already being heavily discussed is the proposed impact of the film. Responsibility. No movie based on a comic book character should have so much. Yet that’s the burden of Marvel’s Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman in the lead role. A character created by legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, it took the first black superhero in the history of mainstream comics 50 years to appear in a movie. After an impressive debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as a supporting yet integral role player, tremendous anticipation began to mount for Panther’s 2018 solo outing. With its Black History Month theatrical release (February 16, 2018) he has a great deal of opposition to contend with.

Sought after comic illustrator and writer Corey “Roc Bottom” Davis of Truthful Comics believes it’s the right time to have a proper depiction of a stout black superhero. “We live in an age where diversity is important now more than ever,” says the South

Carolina native and creator of Jet Boy, another popular Black superhero. “We've seen Iron Man on the big screen, we've seen Captain America on the big screen. And with that we’ve seen the diversity. But one issue: the black men were sidekicks. We've seen Wonder Woman hold her own so far as a lead heroine, and the time for an established black male superhero in the age of diversity is long overdue.”

Onscreen Black Panther must battle fictional villains wielding high-tech weapons. He’ll also tussle with the ramifications of his decisions. Off screen he faces very real social and cultural expectations. A subject already being heavily discussed is the proposed impact of the film.

Glyph Comics Awards-winning author Alverne Ball feels Black Panther will give other screenwriters of color the confidence to write more heroes of color in television and film. “It'll possibly give Black directors a new view into how one may be able to shoot

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and make a film about Black heroes”, he says. “And thus we may see people of color - writers and directors - collaborating, producing, and making content for the underrepresented with backing by a studio or production company. I don't think you'll see it happen organically from those gatekeepers unless it’s brought to them by the creators.”

Among the many relishing the prospective importance of this movie is pioneering blogger, recording artist and activist Jamal STEELE of Pensacola, FL. He says Black Panther is “needed for 2018 to give us a sense of Black excellence and prestige.”

Wearing the animal-inspired Black Panther suit is T’Challa, prince of the isolated, immensely wealthy and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda. Following the death of his father, T’Challa assumes the mantel of king.

Tasked with bringing this futuristic African metropolis to life is writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed and Fruitvale Station), based on a screenplay written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (American Crime). Assembled under Coogler’s direction is an unprecedented cast of Black actors and actresses. Joining Boseman is Forest Whitaker as T’Challa’s mentor Zuri, Michael B. Jordan as his rival Erik Killmonger, Danai Gurira as Okoye – head of his elite all-female guards the Dora Milaje, Latitia Wright as his sister Shuri, and Angela Bassett as his mother Queen Ramonda.

“With a predominantly Black cast it shows us in a regal light,” STEELE says. “This year will show us our worth socially, politically and culturally. This film will be a cultural boost for our self-esteem as a people.” This chiefly applies to Black men.

Davis adds, “It’s important for our young Black males to look up to a hero on the big screen that looks like them and, in this case, remind them of the royalty they come from.”

With T’Challa’s crown comes the duty of protecting his regal people and the considerable assets of his homeland. A major source of Wakanda’s monetary wealth and social prosperity is vibranium – a nearly indestructible metal with energymanipulating qualities. It’s used throughout their nation as well as to create Panther’s gear. It’s also highly coveted by malicious outsiders. A major source of T’Challa’s physical wealth and emotional prosperity is the women he surrounds himself with, especially Shuri and Ramonda.

“As a king it’s even more important to see how he interacts with them as a man in a position of power,” Davis says. “Seeing the relationship he has with them on both levels will be very telling of T'Challa's character. Also, holding together the family in general as the new king. He now has to protect his family on a much larger level as king and son. He has to help with the family's healing process and how he interacts with his mom and sister is an important part of that process.”

With Bassett, Wright, Gurira and numerous others portraying these all-important roles, is it possible the success of Black Panther will encourage other film makers and studios to cast more Black women similarly? Ball doesn’t think so. He feels Black women have always been at the forefront of a civil revolution yet consistently secondary to men. Ball uses assassin film Proud Mary starring Taraji P. Henson as an example.

“Might be a good action-er in the vein of Atomic Blonde or Long Kiss Goodnight, but the fact that some advertising is pushing it as a black female assassin starts the debate of why can't she be a good assassin,” Ball says. “If we turn the question on its head and bring in the connotation on ‘Black + Woman’ what we're really talking about is the stereotyping of Black women to be bitchy, bossy, and belligerent.

“If we really want Black women to be cast in more action movies like Black Panther,” Ball continues, “then these characters need to be like [Tessa Thompson’s] character as Valkyrie [in Thor: Ragnarok] and own the screen; they need dedicated film or TV projects that is female-centric in its view of women and the world, but also has the sensibility to entertain it's male counterparts by not being preachy but truthful in the story it wants to tell. Not formulaic in the process of the heroine being saved by a male or creating a relationship for said heroine when all she needs to do is just live and be herself and fight the good fight. If we start to create projects like that then Black female characters will be in abundance and will have a voice in this genre.”

How often we hear the voice of T’Challa, his people and those like them depends on the success of his solo theatrical release. Black History Month is about celebrating the victories of Black heroes. No movie based on a comic book character should have so much responsibility. Nor should the audience paying to see it. Yet that’s the burden of Marvel’s Black Panther.

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