Marvel’s Black Panther movie is groundbreaking. It is the first blockbuster where black children see a superhero who resembles them in a starring role. Historically, basically all comic book and television superheroes have been white. What white children have always taken for granted, has finally happened for black children: their superheroes and supervillains look like them. The Black Panther movie speaks to all the overlooked children in the United States and around the world.

The Black Panther movie’s cultural footprint is enormous. It takes on what it is like being black in Africa and America — and, ultimately, the world. Black Panther is the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is also the first mega-budgeted movie – not just about superheroes, but about anyone – to have an African-American director and a predominantly black cast.

Black Panther proved to everyone in Hollywood that African-American narratives are more than able to generate massive profits. This superhero movie grossed around $681 million within the first two months of its release. It beat out Titanic, which only two other films have managed.

The Black Panther Movie: A Marvel Movie (Spoilers Ahead)

Disney owns Marvel, who bought 21st Century Fox’s assets, including film properties, in 2017. The price tag for that acquisition was a staggering amount of $52 billion. Many people speculated that Disney would cause the watering down of these types of superhero movies. However, it seems as though the company has only caused these movies to be more consistent. Two films in one year satiate even the most ravenous superhero fan’s appetite.

“Black Panther” is the title of leadership given to the ruler of the Panther tribe of Wakanda, an African nation. The land is rich in Vibranium – a metal that gives them a technological advantage over the rest of the world. Black Panther is the king of the Wakandan people and chief of all Wakandan tribes. In essence, whoever holds this title serves multiple governmental roles, including commander-in-chief. In addition to leading, they battle on the front lines.

Black Panther is an inherited title. However, the person next in line must earn it through physical trials, including intense, equal combat. In this instance, Prince T’Challa gains the title after his king and father, T’Chaka, has been murdered in a terrorist attack. He must battle two challengers, including his cousin, to claim his rightful title.

Like all Marvel films, the Black Panther movie originated between the pages of comic books. He is the first published black superhero endowed with fantastic physical and technological abilities. His first appearance was in the beloved Fantastic Four in 1966. In these comics, he captures and defeats the four superheroes one-by-one to determine his readiness to defeat the villain who killed his father.

Introducing the First Black Superhero

T’Challa is the first superhero that black children can watch on the big screen and see themselves reflected. He was bred to be king of the great land of Wakanda. Likewise, he is smarter than the average superhero, has battled Captain America, and has the advantages of Wakanda’s advanced technology. His sister, Shuri, is the technology expert who keeps him outfitted with weapons beyond imagination. She uses Vibranium as her main ingredient.

Uniquely, T’Challa is the only superhero who has the responsibility of being both a king and a superhero. However, his duty to his people comes first. The most significant difference between the T’Challa we meet in the MCU and his counterpart in the comic is the time when he gains the throne. In the comics, T’Challa lost his father, T’Chaka at a young age. Comparatively, in the MCU, T’Chaka dies in a bombing, which results in an adult T’Challa becoming the king.

As with any superhero, T’Challa faces a supervillain, a mercenary known as Killmonger. Comic books readers know that Erik Killmonger is a child exile of Wakanda after his father conspires against the country. Killmonger grows up in Harlem, studies at M.I.T. and returns as an adult to begin a revolution in Wakanda for revenge.

The movie flips the script on Killmonger: he is T’Challa’s first cousin. His uncle, T’Chaka, kills his father, N’Jobu. At the beginning of the film, T’Chaka finds his brother in America after an attack on Wakanda. He knows that N’Jobu assisted the attackers. N’Jobu didn’t want to hurt anyone but thought he could help oppressed people with Wakanda’s resources. Correspondingly, he dies for betraying the throne.

A Black Superhero and His World

Located in East Africa, Wakanda is a small fictional nation more technologically advanced than any other country in the world. The film places Wakanda on the map bordering Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. Accordingly, it is a landlocked country surrounded by mountains and dense jungles, both of which have helped Wakanda remain isolated.

Wakanda was once the home of five primitive human tribes. When a meteor struck the region, one warrior ingested a heart-shaped herb that had been affected by the meteor. Doing so gave the warrior superpowers, which he used to unite most of the tribes, taking them under his rule. He became the first Black Panther, and his lineage would continue to rule the country for centuries.

The meteor strike left an everlasting supply of Vibraniam which is considered the most durable metal in the world. Wakanda is the only nation on the planet to possess this metal. They used the metal to help support their people, and have continued to grow and develop as a prosperous country.

Below is a video all about Wakanda:

To be sure, with a secluded country comes a secluded superhero. He has unlimited resources which benefit his people, but only for the Wakandans. These resources are not shared to help the world as a whole. By the end of the Black Panther movie, we see a much-changed T’Challa who is finally ready to become a real superhero for the entire world.

This Is Not Your Typical Superhero Movie

Some superheroes come from other planets: Superman has his Krypton and Thor reigns from Asgard. Other superheroes are merely mutants like The Hulk or Spiderman. The Black Panther is neither. Located on Earth, T’Challa is a human. Additionally, only the Vibranium gives him his superpowers. He is a superhero primarily by birthright.

Perhaps as groundbreaking as its leading man, Black Panther’s female characters are beyond the realm of what we have seen before. Many of these warriors belong to the Dora Milaje, a team of Wakandan women trained from birth to be the best fighters in the world when it comes to martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, and weaponry. They protect the throne, as well as whoever is currently the Black Panther. Seeing the Dora Milaje working together at the film’s center shows women as more than sex objects.

In fact, the general of the Dora Milaje, Okoye, faces a moral struggle not unlike that which many superheroes have faced. In an important part of the film, everyone believes T’Challa is dead. As a result, Killmonger is ruling the country, and Okoye has to make the decision to go against her upbringing for the sake of the nation.

The women even got their own actions figures for this film:

A female action figure from the Black Panther movie in all her glory.

Image CC by 2.0, by Hannaford, via Flickr

The Black Panther Movie is for All Audiences

Black Panther is a movie that attracts all audiences. The action, the storyline, and the underlying message speaks to everyone. Who doesn’t want a nation of superhero caliber warriors on their side? Everyone wants to be shielded from the world at times. Ultimately, this is a story of self-perseverance taking a backseat for the good of many.


Featured image: CC by 2.0, by David Holt London, via Flickr