Will the success of “Black Panther” change the industry or will it be business as usual?

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment
Black Panther Logo
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment
By The Nerdling

Not Like Everything Else

In one month the latest Marvel movie, Black Panther, will hit theaters.  This will be the first time the superhero-driven studio will have a main champion whose skin color is not white (The Incredible Hulk doesn’t count).  While there have been other superhero movies which featured an African-American man as the lead, none were really given the hype or budget Black Panther is receiving.  The only movies to come close were the Blade trilogy and Hancock.  These movies didn’t exactly portray the heroes in a positive light.

Black Panther is very different than what has come before when it comes to representation of African men and women.  The hero, T’Challa, is a world leader.  He is king of the fictional African country of Wakanda which is the richest, most technologically advanced nation in the world.  The majority of the secondary heroes are the Dora Milaje, a group of women who serve as the personal bodyguards to the king.  Badasses in their own right.  The leading scientist of Wakanda is a woman and sister to the king, Shuri.  Not only are the majority of the characters black, but women are seen as equals intellectually and physically.  No “White Savior” waiting in the wings.

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Already Breaking Records

Advance sales began last Monday and broke Marvel’s record previously held by Captain America: Civil War (the movie which introduced T’Challa to the MCU) for most tickets sold in 24-hours.  Some entertainment sites have a modest-high opening weekend projections, while others predict it could out do Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Obviously, we will not know until February 15th when showings start, but it is safe to say T’Challa will reign as king of the box-office.

I think Black Panther will go even further than predicted.  Social media is filled with persons of color who are not fans of the superhero genre and have yet to see a Marvel movie in theaters, but last Monday were bragging about purchasing their ticket.  Advanced sales only tell part of the story.  “Wakanda Forever” is a campaign (just one of many) dedicated to raising money so young African-American children in Harlem can see this movie.  A whole sub-set of movie goers Hollywood tends to discount are gearing up to see Black Panther in droves.  Repeat viewings are most likely a guarantee.

More Diversity Means More Money

Kevin Feige has used the hype surrounding Black Panther and the success of Wonder Woman to give the solo Black Widow movie that needed push, something fans have been asking for since before The Avengers in 2012.  This makes two female superheroes with their own movies at Marvel.  Some (minor) progress for representation, but what about Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-Muslim girl?  Or Jonathon Silvercloud/Forge, a Native American man and veteran?  America Chavez/Miss America who is gay and Latina?  Cindy Moon/Silk who is Korean-American? The list of non-white superheroes is not massive, but there are many to pick from.  And people will come out to support these films.

T'Challa & Shuri
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Diversity does add up to more money, just look at three giant movies in 2017.  Ticket sales for superhero movies tend to hover around 60%+ males populating the theater, majority of those males tend to be Caucasian-American.  Wonder Woman saw a near 50-50 split with men and women at the box-office, proving women will come out support a movie when there is representation.  Girl’s Trip saw massive success with the majority of the audience being female African-Americans.  Get Out was one of the biggest hits of 2017 with a large mix of race and gender at the theater.  Black Panther will draw in a sub-set of movie goers which do not normally support the superhero genre and I’m hoping executives won’t ignore this.  Making more movies with women/minorities as the hero will only continue to widen Marvel’s audience.

Black Panther just might change how Hollywood executives greenlight POC and female driven superhero projects in the future.  Of course, this will only happen if those execs decide to pay attention and not attribute the box-office success of this film as a fluke or laying its achievement on the shoulders of the franchise in general (i.e. money was made because it is the MCU).

Come February, Black Panther is going to make some headlines.  Let’s hope it will also create several changes representation at the movies.

The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter @nerdlingstale.