Review: The Cultural Impact Of Black Panther

17th Dallas International Film Festival

The success of “Black Panther” is an important cultural watermark for African-American heritage. Prior to the film’s release date, the significant press was attributed to the predominant number of the film’s black cast members, the film’s black director Ryan Coogler, and the film’s setting, a technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda. But, why all the fuss, what makes this film such cultural achievement? “It’s a movie for now! I’m excited that it exists. And I’m excited that Marvel invested that much into the film”, exclaimed James Faust, Artistic Director for the Dallas Film Society. “Black Panther” is groundbreaking in the fact that never before in industry history has a film with such a predominately black cast had a $200 million dollar budget. “I saw two very different screenings one was a mixed audience and the other was a black theater. At the black screening, we caught every single nuance that the other one (theater) didn’t, why? Because the filmmakers were talking to us! It was written by black folk it was directed by black folk, you can tell!” declared Chilimbwe Washington co-founder of the Austin Action Film Festival.

The significantly recognizable crest is the flood of ticket sales “Black Panther” has achieved, not only in setting a record for the highest presale tickets in the industries history.

“I saw two very different screenings one was a mixed audience and the other was a predominately black audience. In attending the screening with the black audience, we caught every single nuance that the other one (theater) didn’t, why? Because the filmmakers were talking to us! It was written by black folks it was directed by black folks, you can tell!”

After “Black Panther’s” opening weekend it continues to set box office records, as reported by Black Panther is only the fifth film to deliver over $200 Million in receipts for the 3-day weekend total and the second largest 4 day total in industry history.  In addition to these historical records, the film posted the largest February opening weekend ($202,003,951), largest winter season-opening weekend ($202,003,951), largest Presidents Day opening weekend ($242,155,680), the largest Monday sales ($40,151,729) and the largest Thursday preview gross in the month of February ($25.2 Million). Most of the previous February record that “Black Panther” broke were held by “Deadpool”, another Marvel film. Estimates for a films gross box office are based from that films opening weekend totals, those totals over time can be multiplied by a small percentage to determine what the film will gross over its theatrical run. “Deadpool’s” Multiplier was 2.74x, which was the film that opened over the same weekend in 2016. If this same multiplier was applied to “Black Panther” the total box office for the film would gross near $550 million. However, industry speculation puts “Black Panther” closer to a 3x Multiplier which places its totals closer to “The Avengers” total box office receipts.

Before black Lives Matter the story of the police shooting of Oscar Grant was told through Director Ryan Coogler’s first film “Fruitvale Station”. A true-life story of how a 22-year-old was killed by transit police in San Francisco. Grant’s death sparked outrage and protest in the Bay Area where Coogler had grown up. These experiences provided a substantial foundation for Coogler’s direction for “Black Panther”. The references to the Black Panther party, within the film, are plentiful starting with the films marketing campaign that had similarities to the famous Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton photograph, which was also linked in the wardrobe choice made for the photo of Michael B. Jordan in British GQ.  Sterling K. Brown portrays, N’Jobu, the father of Erik Killmonger this film’s villain. During the opening of the film, The Black Panther party was a symbol of pride and strength for the African- American community who were raised in the 60s and 70s. A predominant reason for the creation of the Black Panther party was to deal with abuse of power by police against the African-American community. However, the political group supported the community with many social assistance programs such as health care, food pantries and student breakfast assistance. Almost from the inception, the police were at odds with the group resulting in a shoot-out with the Oakland police in 1967, where founder Huey P. Newton allegedly shot and killed a police officer. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but the case was later overturned on appeal. In 1969, a member of the Black Panther party was tortured and killed due to the fact that other members believed he was a police informant. During the early 1970s, the FBI began to investigate the group for criminal activities having been declared by the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, as “One of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.”

Marvel’s “Black Panther” was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) just months prior to the political Black Panther party founding date. Lee and Kirby created the character of Black Panther, T’Challa king of the fictional African country Wakanda, to give their black readers a character to identify with.

A true achievement for this film goes well beyond the box office to the heart of Africa in the setting of Wakanda. An advanced civilization built on the technology of the fictional mineral Vibranium, which holds a unique place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). All of this technology based on Vibranium which supports the more important display of the nearly all-black cast and its predominately African setting. Speaking about Africa, Faust states “It’s a mess there is always factions of terrorism going on and you put this mythical magical country that hides itself from all that and its people whose sole purpose is to help each other yet there are tribes that have their individualities it might as well be an African Valhalla”. Wakanda is a setting not typical for films of this stature, which traditionally showcase a much more urban and less affluent cast, setting and storyline. “There is nothing like the roles woman portray in this film, everything “Wonder Woman” showed except with more clothes”, stated Faust. The strength in the film the female characters that hold near equivalent roles in the film’s storyline stands tall along with their male counterparts.  One of the most positive aspects of reviews from both fans and critics alike has been the female storylines within Black Panther. “I really liked the idea of the women in their (Wakandan) culture it had a lot to say about how traditional women are the ones, in movies, who need to be saved. And I like that now they are shown as heroines”, said Christian Gaston, a self-proclaimed, film nerd. Coogler, when interviewed about “Black Panther”, has declared that he viewed the Black Panther as a Bond film, which becomes evident with Shuri portrayed by Letitia Wright. Shuri fills the technological needs T’Challa has as Black Panther’s very own “Q”. Angelica Fields a Computer Graphic added, “She (Shuri) was a scientist and she creates, that was really something I was proud of, to see a character that you don’t always see in films”.

Bongani Mlambo a Los Angeles based filmmaker who was born in Zimbabwe Africa stated, “In recent years with Oscars so white and other hashtags people feel Hollywood doesn’t fully represent, in their films, the full plethora, depth and diversity of humanity in the types of stories that are told.” “Black Panther’s” success is a form of validation that stories about and from the Black community are as good as any other Hollywood story”, declared Mlambo Cinematographer of All Creatures Here Below. All though other films have showcased black superheroes, even within the MCU (“Blade” 1998), none have had the significance or impact like Coogler’s “Black Panther”. “It’s the strength of African women with the strength of African men but you have to have the African –American perspective to bring the story full circle”, declared Marvel fan, D’Qwaylon Rose. The film’s vision is a grand vision whose success should not be lost on Hollywood executives, who should recognize the importance of an expanded vision for the African-American community. One true certainty is that “Black Panther” makes this film fan boldly declare… Black Power!

15th Dallas International Film Festival