Those who watched Obama’s Nelson Mandela Lecture (17/07/18) on YouTube may have noticed the added dimension of an adjacent comment section scrolling in real-time alongside the event — the medium being the message, and all that rot. One thing that I could not help noticing among the barrage of nonsense assaulting my peripheral vision was the frequency of comments saying something to the effect of "Wakanada forever," "Is this Wakanda?," or even just the single word, "WAKANDA." Evidently, the mere presence of an African setting is enough to be immediately equated with Black Panther’s residual impact on the popular imagination’s impression of the entire continent.
Though it may be difficult to discern whether this is the result of true malice or simple ignorance, there is certainly something to be said about the co-opting of the fictional nation to become a vehicle for such regressive discourse. Given that Black Panther has been unilaterally received as a moment of progress for African American filmmaking and Black culture in general, attention must also be given the unfortunate consequences of its omnipresence, particularly as it has been received by white (and especially conservative) audiences throughout the West.
This article should examine the subtle process by which the film’s iconography has acquired these less-than-favourable connotations, and what that may mean for its continued existence in this highly fractured media landscape. Does this fallout in any way negate the film’s thematic emphases on the legacy of colonialism and globalization vs. isolationism? In a real-world political climate wherein an American president refers to Africa as being comprised of "shit-hole countries," does the mass exposure received by a fictional Afro-Futurist utopia serve as a genuine antidote to these misconceptions? Where is the line between empowerment and sophistry? What impact might this cross-pollination between popular culture and current politics have on the advancement of the latter, as Obama’s lecture was undeniably meant to represent?
An interesting topic. I loved Black Panther, but when a friend who I'd recommended it to watched it, she said it "wasn't that great". I had to explain what the film meant for the whole culture and industry; using people of colour in the cast, traditional names for those people's characters, a soundtrack written and produced by black artists that put songs from a different genre on the top charts. Perhaps it is just ignorance, or perhaps the people commenting "Wakanda forever" simply don't understand why this culture association can be seen as offensive. It's a tough question, but I'm sure you're not the only one to notice these comments so maybe there's some research out there you could try to find to help make your point? – Gemma Ferguson5 years ago
T’Challa is not the typical hypermasculine black superhero attributed with traits like emotional sensitivity, thoughtfulness and respect. On the other end, Killmonger the villain of the film has many traits closely associated with the black action hero and the stars of the blacksploitation films. Explore and contrast the gendered depiction of T’Challa and Erik Killmonger and how masculinity is constructed in Black Panther.
There haven't been a whole lot of black superheros. Is it sensible to talk about 'hypermasculine black superhero' as a large grouping? Maybe better to broaden this to all male hypermasculine superheros.
Also, it would be wonderful to get a clear sense of what the specific traits are that Killmonger shares with conventional black action heroes.
Great topic though! – hwilkinson6 years ago
Thank you for the feedback Hwikinson. While hypermasculinity is a part of all male superheroes, the black superhero is doubly fetishized, due to their race. This is particularly true in the blaxploitation films of the 70s that first brought many popular black male superheroes to light and served as role models or many others - think Shaft, Superfly, Luke Cage and Black Lightning. These were more often than not one-man inner-city vigilantes, detectives, and ex-cons waging a war against the establishment. Often in Blaxploitation films, the hypermasculinity of the male action hero was used as a tool to replace old stereotypes of submissive blacks with new stereotypes of hyper-sexualized, violent, anti-social blacks living in a fictionalized ghetto world characterized by vice and lawlessness. These traits are remarkably more similar Killmonger, who also wants to destroy the system that he considers as oppressive than to T'Challa. – bansari6 years ago
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. – SaraiMW6 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 Walsh6 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. – ProtoCanon6 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 Walsh6 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. – ProtoCanon6 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" – JamesBKelley6 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. – JoanneK6 years ago
Back-story on the Black Panther that we did not get in Civil War and that we did not see from the Black Panther himself. How he became Black Panther is more depth – because the movie did not go into much of that aspect because of the movie coming out in a few years. This could be the evolution of Black Panther and how he got to be where and who he is, if it differs between what was stated in Civil War.
I would read that. However, there is a movie coming, so whoever wants to pick this topic should consider that. At the very least, address it. – ismael6768 years ago
I do think the choice to leave a lot of his backstory from Civil War was so they have things to show in his standalone film. It would really just be a re-hash of his old comics – darcvader8 years ago
The Black Panther comic series was canceled for quite a while after the rise of Malcom X and the Black Panthers, due to worries that people may associate the two. Should look into that more, and talk about that. If looking up racially problematic characters, anyone interested should also look up Marvel's Captain Nazi, or the fact that Superman fought Hitler in the comics. – Truthsayer878 years ago
Whoever takes this should look at it more thematically, rather than just doing a straight history (which can easily be found on Comic Vine, Wikipedia, etc.). Rather than who he is, I'd encourage the author to look at what he stands for and represents in society. What are enduring aspects of his characterization (not just character), as he is passed from writer to writer? What do his continued associates (Storm, etc.) suggest about him? – m-cubed7 years ago
Before Black Panther the entire MCU only had 2 prominent black characters (Rhodey and Falcon). Now they are making a film jam-packed with incredibly talented people of colour both on screen (Boseman, Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan) and off (director/writer Ryan Coogler and writer Jor Robert Cole). What positive impacts will this have on the MCU, and people of colour within the superhero film genre as a whole? What (of an endless list) could possibly go wrong? Will Marvel/Disney continue down a more diverse path after Black Panther, or will they claim they "did enough"? Most importantly, WHY is it so important that this movie be a success?
Let's not forget that Ta-Nehisi Coates, the most prominent commentator on race today, is writing the latest comic issues. I haven't read the comics, but I've read his other works, and race is the central theme. If you don't know who he is, he became "famous" after publishing an article on The Atlantic about The Case for Reparations. – ismael6768 years ago
Excellent point! I've heard great things about the first issue he wrote – Darcy Griffin8 years ago