Wakanda Forever: How ‘Black Panther’ is changing the zeitgeist of modern film

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ASU students are inspired by Marvel’s Black Panther movie and hope this is the beginning of predominantly black movie casts.

Black Panther is making history for featuring the first black superhero and a primarily black cast. Black Panther was released on February 16 and made $25.2 million on opening night. Now with revenues totaling more than $900 million, it has become this year’s must-see movie.

The Marvel movie has already shown its impact on a local scale. Organizations are attempting the Black Panther Challenge, the goal of which is to raise money for underprivileged children to attend a showing of the film. Moviegoers are posting pictures on social media of themselves wearing traditional African outfits and posing with movie posters.

“The movie’s largest cultural impact will be that millions of people will have seen black men and women as stars in a superhero film,” says Matthew Delmont, director and professor for ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. “Seeing people who look like you doing amazing things on a movie screen is a powerful thing and it has been inspiring to see all of the pictures on Twitter of kids and adults dressing up like the characters.”

Delmont, whose expertise is in Civil Rights and African American studies, says that Hollywood should continue producing movies with diverse casts because movie audiences in the U.S. are more diverse than ever.

“The idea that movies with a predominately black cast — or predominately people of color cast — don’t sell tickets has always been based more on the racial attitudes of Hollywood studio executives than actual data,” Delmont says.

He adds that Hidden Figures, Get Out, and Black Panther have done exceptionally well at the box office and that continuing to produce movies with diverse casts “is just a smart business decision.”

Marcus Edwards, a member of ASU’s Black Student Union, says an excuse that stops movies with predominantly black casts from being produced is because they don’t do well internationally. He expects that this movie will prove that wrong, and the movie will receive the same positive reaction overseas as it has in the U.S.

Edwards says black Americans are represented in the movie exactly how they represent themselves in the real world. “We fight here in a place that doesn’t want to integrate us and we also want to go back to a place that we just expect to be welcomed with open arms,” Edwards says. “It is the perfect representation because that’s what we do on a more realistic level. It is more truthful than what black people wanted to see.”

Ayanna Shambe, the vice president of ASU’s Black Student Union, likes that the movie includes aspects of traditional African culture. “The movie was amazing,” Shambe says. “It was cool to see Afrofuturism at its best and to see how they imagined Wakanda.”

Black Panther touched on cultural issues between Africans and black Americans, according to Shambe. The movie, which is set in Africa, creates a dilemma for black moviegoers: Not all black Americans define themselves as African.

“They did a good job showing the nuance within the global black community,” Shambe says.

BSU member Oteisha Hutchinson liked the movie and hopes that it will inspire black youth. The film has underlying tones of female empowerment, she says. The movie encourages women toward STEM programs and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, decided to make the guards of Wakanda, the fictional, futuristic African nation in which the movie is set, only women.

“Coogler did that to touch on feminism and everything that is going on now with domestic violence and actually portraying women as being able to defend themselves,” Hutchinson says.

The black Hollywood community came together and contributed to different levels of the production of this movie. Tyler Perry allowed the Black Panther cast to shoot scenes at his studio in Atlanta, Georgia.

“For underrepresented voices to have access to areas where decisions are made was amazing,” Shambe says. “It’s clear that black people were represented at all stages of development in this movie.”

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