Black Panther showing cultural significance and box office dominance

The logo for Marvel Comics Black Panther series.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The logo for Marvel Comics’ “Black Panther” series.

Mike Brown

“Black Panther” has clawed its way to a top spot as not only a superhero movie, but as a cultural milestone in America.

Black Panther debuted in 1966, joining the Avengers in 1968, and receiving his first solo feature comic book in 1973. He continued to appear in various comic books, television shows and video games until making his first appearance in film with 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

An adaptation of the Marvel comic of the same name, co-written by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, any semblance of the film is being voraciously consumed by the public.

According to Box Office tracking, “Black Panther” came in at a whopping $242,155,680 opening weekend gross, shattering the previous record set in 2016 by “Deadpool,” which grossed $152,193,853.

With the film currently sitting at $719,813,257 worldwide, “Black Panther” has proven its place as a heavyweight among not only Marvel movies, but film as a whole.

Iowa State was not lacking in excitement for the film either, with events being held for multiple groups across campus including events directly connected to black history month. There were even sign-ups being held for a viewing at Cinemark Movies in Ames and an event for Frederiksen Court residents being held at North Grand Cinema.

Frederiksen Court Community Manager Jonathan Reynolds said there was massive demand for the film within his community.

“Historically during the month of February or March we look at movies that are coming out. The movie that stood out to [the Frederiksen Court Community Council] was ‘Black Panther,’” said Reynolds.

Reynolds also stated himself and the council members saw overwhelming support and demand from all of Iowa State’s students to see the film.

Reynolds went on to speak about the importance of the film’s cultural and societal impact and the role played in his and the council’s decision to hold a showing of “Black Panther” for Frederiksen Court residents.

“They looked at the cultural significance of it recognizing that it’s a film that was produced and acted out by a predominantly black cast and the people and what that meant for the people who are seeing that,” Reynolds elaborated.

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart gave his insight on what the overwhelming success of “Black Panther” means for our society, stating the fact that this film was backed by Disney and as successful as it was is “definitive proof that diversity is a primary economic driver.”

The “Black Panther” soundtrack, which Kendrick Lamar curated, produced, partially wrote and performed, rose to the top of the U.S. iTunes chart in less than 24 hours. The album features some of the most prominent artists in hip-hop and R&B including SZA, 2 Chainz, ScHoolboy Q, Khalid, Travis Scott and Vince Staples.

The album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts.

Stewart spoke to the significance of the overwhelming success of “Black Panther”’s accompanying album.

“The billboard number one album and the number one movie in the world simultaneously speaks to the completeness of the Black Aesthetic. Black art has always been a triangulation of visual art, music and dance,” Stewart said in an email.

Stewart then went on to further explain the connection that can be made to African culture as a whole

“Those are the legacy communication channels for people of the African diaspora from generation to generation,” Steward said. “We use multiple modes to tell our stories and we don’t compartmentalize. Think of it as a ripple effect, what we hear influences how we move, how we move influences what we see and so on.”

Stewart also spoke to the album’s legacy and place among other black musician’s work.

“The soundtrack will live on for generations, just as ‘Legend’ captures the spirit of Bob Marley and ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ is a definitive masterpiece of Stevie Wonder,” Stewart said.

This is the first major superhero movie that a black person has written, directed and starred in, marking a milestone in diverse representations in popular culture. Films like “Black Panther” show a deviation from a mass media which frequently portrays black men as criminals, violent and otherwise.

Stewart also believes Black Panther as a film marks a massive pop culture shift in America, especially being backed by a corporation as large as Disney.

“For those who study race in America, it is well established that the historical representations of people of color from Walt Disney Studios has been a convoluted mess of trope, stereotype and overt racist characterizations,” Stewart said.

Although Disney has had a more than troubled past with people of color historically, “Black Panther,” among other films, marks a new trajectory for Disney, according to Stewart.

“What the ‘Black Panther’ represents is a new Disney cannon, where storytelling and meaningful depiction of culture is paramount,” Stewart said. “They are improving and it is important to note that ‘Black Panther’ and to an extent ‘Finding Dory’ and ‘Moana’ represent a true and more inclusive ‘popular culture’ for Disney.”

David Dennis Jr. wrote in Uproxx on what representation of a black person as a main superhero means to him.

“I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but the connection to someone who looked like me in a store full of pictures of white ,and purple, and green and anything but Black, faces, is why I remember precisely the moment I first grabbed Marvel’s 1998 ‘Black Panther’ #1 off of the shelf at my favorite comic book shop,” Dennis wrote.

Stewart also gave a personal account of how his experience with film as an art form growing up has changed as a black man in America.

“Watching this movie was surreal for me because every frame, image and nuance was aimed at me. The Golden Age of Hollywood was the ’20s-’60s but African Americans were conspicuously absent or painfully stereotyped. People say John Hughes movies perfectly captured teen angst of the ’80s. Well, I was a teen then and none of those movies captured my life…at all.” Stewart explained.

Stewart then went on to explain what a movie like “Black Panther,” featuring a predominantly black cast and written by a black person, changed for him in regards to relating and connecting to film on a more personal level.

“As a kid from Oakland now living in the Midwest, they finally made a fairy tale for me and my children to believe in,” Stewart said.

While the movie resonated deeply on a personal level with Stewart, he also believes the film has serious implications to society on the whole that will cement its cultural legacy, referencing a quote from the end of the film:

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Stewart said he is “quite hopeful the impact of the statement is lost on no one.”

Stewart also referenced the film’s call for good people in leadership and the way it tackles the history of the black experience in America.

“In a time when the immigration debate is at full roar let us never forget how the Black experience in the United States started,” Stewart said. “We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of U.S. history we glorify with monuments while other the part we ignore because it’s in the past.”

Stewart also goes on to explain that while an important message in the film, he believes it is a mistake to boil the film’s message and legacy down to simply being anti-colonialism.

“Some falsely assume this movie is a rant against colonization. While the impact of violence and genocide are central to the message, the more meaningful one for me was the notion that those with means and resources are obligated to help those in need,” Stewart said. “It would be impossible to tell the story of the African experience in America without exploring the themes of colonialism and slavery, but to reduce the film down to this is intellectually lazy.”

Stewart said in his opinion, the deeper message of the movie is that those with power and resources help those less fortunate.

“The fundamental question and central theme was why, if Wakanda is so affluent and technologically advanced, did they not help the Black people who were in bondage during slavery or experiencing disparate treatment all over the world?” Stewart said.

“Black Panther” is not short of strong black women either, as Stewart explains the important role many of the women in “Black Panther” played as well as the intersectionality between the female characters of “Black Panther” and the actions of black women in today’s society.

“Black women have been at the forefront of social change in the United States historically, and especially today with Black Lives Matter, Me Too, etc.,” Stewart said. “The point being, the Dora Milaje represent the spiritual AND physical protectors of Wakanda as Black women have served in this role for our community for generations.

“What was unique is that the women were the source of both the physical and emotional strength for the king.”

Stewart believes the strong women in “Black Panther” are one of the most clear reflections of our culture and society on the whole.

“The depiction of the Black women as the central figure of Black power and strength is the least fictional part of this Hollywood blockbuster,” stated Stewart.

The film also holds a strong connection to the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a holiday which celebrates and honors African heritage as well as African American culture, by exploring the seven principles of Kwanzaa, these principles being: Umoja, unity; Kujichagulia, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith, as explained by Stewart.