Film review: ‘Black Panther’ paves way for cultural representation in Hollywood


From start to finish, “Black Panther” unapologetically immerses the audience into a medley of African cultures.

The film goes beyond superhero movie rhetoric and touches on heavy themes such as identity, responsibility, forgiveness, African diaspora, colonization, politics and representation.

“Black Panther” is not the first black superhero film (we all remember the “Blade” trilogy). However, it is the first Marvel film to feature an African hero and the continent’s diaspora, which is the dispersion of people from their original homeland.

Wakanda allows people to see the power of an African nation untouched by slavery or colonization.

Here’s why all of this matters: A superhero film is a way to see one’s self as capable of greatness despite flaws, yet most of these films portray predominantly white males.

A study by professors at the University of South California analyzed character representation in 800 films between 2007 and 2015.

Of the 35,205 characters studied, 31.4 percent who spoke were female, 26.3 percent were racial minorities and 2.4 had disabilities, according to the study.

But “Black Panther” gives black people the chance to see themselves as heroes and witness different African cultures being positively portrayed. It also opens the door for more cultures to be represented in future films.

It’s important for the youth to see this kind of representation and foster confidence early on.

The film spurred a phenomenon where schools such as Bethune Mary McLeod School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, raised money for students who couldn’t afford to see “Black Panther.” Celebrities such as Octavia Spencer bought out entire movie theaters in black communities to allow disadvantaged children to see the movie.

The film also tears down the stigma against women. The women in “Black Panther” are anything but damsels in distress. The women are strong, intelligent and just as capable as men — they are warriors. They do not have to diminish their power in order for the men to showcase theirs; they equally grow together.

In the Marvel film, Wakandan King T’Challa must decide whether the nation should use its success and wealth to aid the less fortunate — something it’s never done before.

Wakanda takes a closed-door approach to global politics, opting to stay in the shadows amidst global chaos in order to remain successful. The political commentary resonates in present-day America, which has closed the door on some countries in need of refuge.

The antagonist of the film is Killmonger, a highly intelligent mercenary with a dark and personal connection to Wakanda. He challenges its isolationist attitude and aims to disperse Wakanda’s technology across the world to help blacks rise in power and capability.

Killmonger’s extremist character is shaped by how blacks such as himself are treated in the United States. He scorns Wakanda for basking in wealth and technology while blacks suffered slavery, racism and societal marginalization.

The film’s characters comment on the black experience in America as they describe neighborhoods flooded with drugs and violence.

“Black Panther” is intelligent, passionate, humorous and nothing short of revolutionary. Ultimately, the film transcends the basic Marvel movie premise of good versus bad for the sake of it and offers a more complex take instead. It gives viewers thought-provoking context, dialogue and character development.

Most of all, the film was released during a time of tremendous political and racial divide and offers a glimmer of hope to those who feel ousted by the society they live in.

Photo courtesy of IMP Awards.