Black Panther: Not the First Black Superhero in Film but is most Impactful

With the hype surrounding Marvel’s latest film Black Panther, there is a lot of focus from word of mouth and marketing that this is the first black superhero on the big screen. That is not true however as many have been shown in tv and films before such as Blade and Luke Cage. Yet Black Panther’s role for POC representation in film is much more culturally significant than the other african-american superheroes that appeared on the big screen before the King of Wakanda. By comparing how the others were represented in comparison to Black Panther today.

  • An important part of this needs to be the discussion occurring around the film in relation to social and cultural issues that did not occur when other Marvel films were released. No one sat around discussing the importance of Thor being blonde (god I hope they didn't), but many people are discussing what Black Panther means and what it reflects about American society. I think this is an important topic to get up on The Artifice. – SaraiMW 6 years ago
  • @SaraiMW That's what I mean for this idea, I was just giving a summary and you just got the exact purpose of this topic. – Ryan Walsh 6 years ago
  • Something worth considering is that in 1998 (when Blade was released) superhero movies were far from being the pop culture touchstone that they are today. Prior to the launch of the MCU in 2008, the whole genre was a niche with limited appeal beyond the comic-nerd subculture and fans of action blockbusters. Though Blade (along with the first X-Men and Rami's Spider-man trilogy) is considered to be an ancestor of the contemporary dominance of the genre, what makes Blank Panther such a big deal is that it is the first POC lead in a (feature) superhero movie SINCE superhero movies have been the biggest thing in the world. This is a good enough topic, but I think it fixates too much upon the media narrative's unfortunate misuse of the world "first," and thus fails to see the forest for the trees. It consequently forces those of us who like to nitpick (myself included) to jump into "corrector-mode," which may distract from what a monumental moment for diversity/representation in mainstream media this really is. Just my two cents. – ProtoCanon 6 years ago
  • @ProtoCanon So then what would be the best way to make sure that this topic doesn't devolve into nitpick territory about technicalities? – Ryan Walsh 6 years ago
  • Hard to say, since this whole subject can be a bit of a minefield. I think the important point would be to stress precisely what makes the release of Black Panther a big deal, DESPITE it not being technically the first of its kind. This includes things like historical and cultural context (as I mentioned above), but can also pay attention to the film's commentary on colonialism, globalization, and diplomacy, as well as the uniqueness of its Afro-Futurist aesthetic being so uncommon in the landscape of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. You're addition of "but most impactful" is the more crucial point, so it might be wise of the author to spend more time exploring that than the more salacious "not the first" talking-point. – ProtoCanon 6 years ago
  • Great topic! Don't forget Spawn (1997), Steel (1997), Catwoman (2004), and Hancock (2008). Maybe not great films, but still relevant to the discussion. In the short entry "Comic Books/Superhero Films" in Race in American Film: Voices and Visions that Shaped a Nation (2017), I made the argument that Pootie Tang (2001) and Black Dynamite (2009) are also superhero films with a black character as the lead. If you want to glance at that entry, you might be able to find and read it by searching for: kelley "race in superhero films" – JamesBKelley 6 years ago
  • This is a really interesting topic and one that really says a lot about our current political environment. I think another crucial part to discuss would be the social media reaction to the movie, as well as the fact it was released by such a major and high-budget brand as Marvel. And the fact that the poc characters depicted are pretty unique in that they are royalty- not criminals or people in poverty but powerful, charismatic people. – JoanneK 6 years ago

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