Black Panther: Power to the People

bp4Before I watched Captain America: Civil War, I knew very little about the Marvel character Black Panther. I was aware that he was one of the first black comic book superheroes, but I had no knowledge about his powers, personality, background, or even his real name. As I watched the film, I was pleasantly surprised to witness such a well-developed and compelling character. While I was overjoyed to see three black superheroes together in one film, T’Challa (Black Panther) was the most intriguing. War Machine and Falcon are great characters in their own right, but they’re still essentially sidekicks. Black Panther, on the other hand, is not only a main superhero but the ruler of an entire nation as well.

Chadwick Boseman gave a stellar performance and really sold me on the Black Panther character. His regal aura, amazing combat skills, intelligence, and overall meaningful character arc left a lasting impression. T’Challa starts out as a man seeking vengeance for his deceased father T’Chaka, but later gains a newfound sense of justice. Needless to say, when I found out that Ryan Coogler, one of my current favorite film directors, was set to oversee a Black Panther film in 2018, I was ecstatic.

bp5Black Panther was created by comic book artist Jack Kirby and Marvel founder Stan Lee in 1966 and became the first black superhero in mainstream comics. Kirby and Lee were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and decided to establish a black superhero as a symbol of hope and a champion of racial equality. The character was originally named the “Coal Tiger” but was later given the name Black Panther in honor of the mascot of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), an African American organization led by Civil Rights and Pan-African activist Stokely Carmichael. The LCFO was originally founded to give political power to disenfranchised black citizens and fight racial discrimination in Lowndes County, Alabama. Their motto “black power” galvanized the black community and in turn inspired activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to create the Black Panther Party. When the Black Panther Party rose to prominence and became radicalized, Marvel temporarily changed Black Panther’s name to “Black Leopard” to dissociate him from the organization. In issue #119 of the Fantastic Four comic book, T’Challa proclaimed, “I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T’Challa is a law unto himself. Hence the new name.” However, the name proved lackluster, and the character was permanently changed back to Black Panther.

Meet Black Panther: Marvel's New Breakout Hero
Meet Black Panther: Marvel’s New Breakout Hero

As the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther is an influential character because his origins and persona defy stereotypical depictions of blacks in the media. In contrast to impoverished and war torn African countries, Wakanda is a flourishing and technologically advanced isolationist nation that was never colonized or exploited for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Black Panther himself is a highly intelligent scientist, tactician, and a master of unarmed combat. Adding to his remarkable traits, he also possesses superhuman strength, reflexes, and senses, and wears a suit made of vibranium, the same fictional metal used to create Captain America’s shield. Black Panther embodies all of the characteristics of the ideal superhero and leader by fighting against injustice and protecting the people of Wakanda. He’s teamed up with groups such as The Fantastic Four and The Avengers, defeated countless supervillains, and one point in time he even battled against the Ku Klux Klan in the comic book arc “Panther vs. the Klan.”

bp6Even though several black characters have been featured in comic books since Black Panther’s debut, they’ve usually been part of an ensemble team or the sidekicks to white superheroes. Black Panther, however, is the prototype and inspiration for black lead characters such as Blade, Spawn, and Static Shock. I’ve always been a fan of superheroes, so Black Panther’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is like a dream come true. Marvel has had a good track record when it comes to showcasing African American actors and characters. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), War Machine (Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) have all been wonderful additions to The Avengers franchise and their presence has solidified Marvel’s goal of promoting diversity. Now Marvel is taking it a step further by greenlighting Black Panther’s solo movie with Ryan Coogler at the helm.

Marvel initially approached Ava DuVernay to direct, but she ultimately passed on the job due to creative differences. Next, Marvel reached out to F. Gary Gray, but he was already slated to direct Fast & Furious 8. Finally, the studio contacted Ryan Coogler, and he happily accepted their offer. Coogler, who’s currently working on the script, also recently announced that Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o will co-star with Chadwick Boseman. In an interview with progressive business magazine Fast Company, Coogler discussed his excitement about directing the upcoming Black Panther movie. “What Marvel’s doing […] is making content that exists in a particular universe, where the characters tie in and crossover, and I think that’s a great creative challenge to me—to make this movie as personal as possible. It’s going to be my most personal movie to date, which is crazy to say, but it’s completely the case. I’m obsessed with this character and this story right now, and I think it’s going to be very unique and still fit into the overall narrative that they’re establishing.”

Director RYAN COOGLER on the set of FRUITVALE STATION © 2013 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.
Director RYAN COOGLER on the set of FRUITVALE STATION
© 2013 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Black Panther movie looks to be another Marvel triumph as well as a cinematic achievement for social progress. The fact that Ryan Coogler, an African American director, will be directing a blockbuster movie about a black superhero with a majority black cast is monumental. Superheroes appeal to people from all backgrounds, so greater representation of minorities in the media is vital not only for overall inclusiveness in Hollywood, but dispelling negative and stereotypical portrayals of people of color. Despite being a fictional character, Black Panther can serve as a role model for minorities because he symbolizes heroism, self-pride, and virtue, which are qualities that everyone should aspire to have. I can’t wait for this movie, and I believe that it will be yet another masterpiece for Ryan Coogler.

-Elijah Yarbrough