Why We Need a Black Panther Movie

I’m anxiously awaiting actual information about this proposed Black Panther movie. I only know two things for sure: 1) that Stan Lee has said he would like Black Panther to be a part of the Avengers sequel (which would rock) and 2) that Romeo Miller (or Lil’ Romeo, as I will always know him) said he was approached about the role (which makes no sense to me).

In any case, I definitely want him to get his own movie before he gets thrown into The Avengers 2, and I will be disappointed if it gets cancelled. (And with all the Marvel movie rumors swirling, I think they’ll have to cancel some of them, unless Marvel is ok with biting off more than it can chew.) Without his own movie to star in, he’ll just be a supporting character lost in the background with all the other new Avengers. (Which reminds me: I’d also like Marvel to decide and announce who will actually be in the sequel. There are more proposed characters than even Joss Whedon could handle in one cast.)

It’s not just that I like T’Challa and Wakanda and think he could easily carry his own movie. It’s that we, as a culture, need a Black Panther movie.

The first reason is probably pretty obvious: the world needs a black superhero movie, and the world needs it now. Yes, the colorblind casting of Heimdall in Thor (despite the racist backlash), War Machine, and Nick Fury (who is infinitely more likeable as Samuel L. Jackson) are steps in the right direction. But they’re itty-bitty steps. We need a black hero, not just a black character, no matter how important or likeable or complex.

Not only would Black Panther be a hero, he and his movie would subvert typical American notions of civilization, Africa, Western superiority, as well as typical movie executives’ notions about whether or not moviegoers would be interested in seeing a black superhero on the big screen.

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while, but I was spurred into action by an article by Costa Avgoustinos called “Black Panther: The Progressive African Avenger.” In it, Avgoustinos analyzes the BET-produced Black Panther TV show (which is excellent, streaming on Netflix, and you should watch it), and how it criticizes the way the West sees the world. As Avgoustinos writes,

“the series asks a big “what if?”: What if there was a country in Africa untouched by Western intervention? What could it look like today? Black Panther presents Wakanda as the (exaggerated for comic book purposes) utopian answer—a thriving technologically/medically/culturally/economically advanced African nation which gained such prosperity, not only from following a strict protectionist policy but by rejecting any imperialist impulses of their own that come with power.”

Wakanda is an (admittedly fictional) African nation that is highly insular as well as extremely advanced. Ever self-sufficient, Wakanda creates and perpetuates its own knowledge and power, not simply relying on paternalistic Western imperialists. America tends to pity Africa, thinking of those poor Third Worlders with their backwards, failing everythings. But, if Wakanda and the United States were to get into a fight to prove who is the most advanced, the United States would get its ass kicked.

T’Challa typifies his country well: he is intelligent, well-spoken, regal, as well as endowed with super-abilities. He would be an excellent fictional ambassador from fictional (though plausible) Africa, an ambassador who might make people re-consider what they think they know about Africa.

However, Wakanda is still semi-tribal. On the outside, Wakanda and its people look like the kind of Africa that the West sees as backwards and uncivilized. The Black Panther is the name for the ruler of Wakanda, who wins his (or her!) title through a physical fight. They’re well-acquainted with magic, and refuse to trade with foreigners. For all their civilization, they still cling to notions that Western culture deems uncivilized.

This mixture of civilized and tribal is what makes the progressivism and independence of Wakanda so inspiring. Wakanda does not teach us that we must abandon the qualities that make the West see itself as civilized. Instead, when both the “civilized” and “barbaric” are joined, a country can be wealthy, happy, and strong.

Because Hollywood tends to depict Africa in a highly negative way, it would be as wonderful and progressive as Wakanda to see a vision of Africa (even fictionalized) that is strong, admirable, and not beholden to Western ideals. A Black Panther movie could help to remove the stigma attached to (black) African men in film, who are usually seen as the angry, violent stereotypes this video points out:

 

Maybe a successful Black Panther movie could change the way we Westerners simultaneously victimize and vilify black Africans. Or maybe I’m getting a little carried away about a superhero movie, as usual. In any case, I hope Marvel gives us the opportunity to find out.

-Joanna

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One thought on “Why We Need a Black Panther Movie

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