Marvel’s first black superhero hits the big screen

Jacob Brase | Staff Writer

African American superheroes are finally getting their time to shine, and the timing could not be better.

In 1966, King T’Challa, also known as the ‘Black Panther,’ first appeared in a Marvel comic book. T’challa was the first African American superhero ever created in the history of comics. Nearly 52 years later, the Black Panther now has his own movie, a monumental achievement for Hollywood in the age of superhero movies.

Comic book movies have dominated the film industry for the past 15 years, yet black characters have never been in the spotlight. Over 18 black heroes have been portrayed in major superhero movies, yet in each one of these films, the black character has been a sidekick. One of these heroes was Black panther, who was played by Chadwick Boseman in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016). Although a generally small role, Boseman’s excellent portrayal of the Panther gave fans hope that the long awaited black hero had finally arrived.

 

Illustrated by Visual Design Editor Ryan D’Souza.

 

Senior Amaya King said while she does enjoy current superhero films, ‘Black Panther’ will serve to provide black youth with role models that they can more closely identify with.

“I think it’s really empowering for younger kids to see heros that are the same color as them,” King said. “It’s also putting a statement out there that other actors and minorities can be in movies like this, which is very revolutionary in the film industry.”

Furthermore, King said the movie can empower women of all backgrounds, for the female characters depicted in ‘Black Panther’ remain strong in character and are likeable without being overly promiscuous.

For years, audiences have criticized Hollywood for its lack of diversity, with many fans wanting to see a minority character get his own chance to shine. This request was first granted 18 months ago upon the release of a Marvel Netflix series titled ‘Luke Cage.’ The show features an African American protagonist who fights to keep the streets of Harlem safe. More recently, The CW released ‘Black Lightning’ on January 16. ‘Black Lightning’ does not back down from racially charged topics, often showing scenarios of discrimination that parallel American society today.

In the first episode of the series, African American Jefferson Pierce is pulled over by a white police officer who proceeds to question and persecute him and his family for no reason. Pierce (Black Lightning) proceeds to follow the officer’s instruction but slowly starts to get impatient when the officer gets physical. As Pierce grows frustrated and impatient, his eyes glow a vibrant white color, indicating he is on the verge of using his powers. Pierce holds back though, knowing violence is useless due to the officer’s position in society.

‘Black Lightning’ displays powerful racial commentary like this numerous times, with Pierce even directly quoting the words of Martin Luther King at one point. This message could not come at a better time for the nation, as the state of race relations is more unstable than it has been in generations. Over the past few years, news headlines and twitter timelines have been packed with countless cases of discrimination and injustice in the United States. The most notable taking place in Charlottesville, North Carolina where a large group of white supremacists injured approximately 35 people, and left one casualty. The aftermath of events like these in America left many feeling we live in a country divided. This sense of division gives the message of ‘Black Lightning’ even more significance.

While ‘Black Lightning’ directly deals with problems in society, the message of ‘Black Panther’ comes from the excellent portrayal of African culture. In the film, the Panther’s home country of Wakanda is the most advanced country in the world. Since the Black Panther is the king of Wakanda, he is elegant, calculated and wise in the film—rarely stopping to crack a joke.

King said many Americans often misunderstand African culture, and Black Panther will give audiences proper representation of African people.

“People have really surface level stereotypes that aren’t always true,” King said. “To see a black superhero who is very honorable, strong and intelligent sheds a new light on black culture, and hopefully breaks these stereotypes.”

When sophomore Courtney Lynch first heard ‘Black Panther’ was coming out, she immediately was excited to see a black superhero get his own movie. Lynch, who is an African American herself, hopes the film will give the black community something to be proud of. Lynch said she has rarely seen black characters displayed positively, and she thinks this film will change that.

“I hope black people are seen in a new light after this movie, and I think (Black Panther) is going to really uplift African culture as a whole,” Lynch said. “We’ve seen black characters as villains a lot, but now, we get to see them saving the day. (‘Black Panther’) is not like all the other movies; it’s going to open up opportunities for more movies like this, and I think it will have a lasting impact on people.”

Lynch said that the film creates a future where all types of characters can get their chance to shine.

“No matter your race, you can still have your own movie,” Lynch said. “(‘Black Panther’) is about a lot more than just black superheroes; it sets the tone that other culturally diverse characters can have their own movies.”

Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman said it best.

“It’s more than just a movie, it’s a movement.”

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