'Black Panther' movie tells classic superhero tale with cultural twists and social commentary

Written by: 
Adam Brace

Marvel’s “Black Panther” has drawn controversy from critics and superhero fans for touching on modern social issues like racism, the legacy of slavery, imperialism, and the inner city struggles the black community faces. “It’s a strong reminder that we need to recognize and put an end to social issues like racism and slavery,” said Teaghan Strong, a freshman from Wisconsin studying music education.


The movie tells the story of T’Challa, an African prince and superhero of the fictional country Wakanda, intertwines the classic superhero vs. bad guy story with African culture and current social issues.


The main highlight of the film, according to freshman Ethan Landgraf, was its diversity. “It gave representation to the African-American community because so far we’ve basically only seen mostly white superheroes. We haven’t seen many black superheroes.”


Landgraf, a biomed major from Honolulu, said, “I know when I watched Disney’s ‘Moana,’ for me the movie wasn’t super original, but it was really cool because I got to see Polynesian culture represented on a large scale. I’m sure the black community experienced something similar. They got to see some aspect of their lives portrayed on the big screen.


“I thought that ‘Black Panther’ brought something different to the Marvel universe. Generally, in the Marvel universe, you see some superheroes fighting in some city or on some alien planet. This one takes place in Africa, a completely different setting with a whole new culture. … Every scene that happened in Wakanda was something that you haven’t seen before in the cinema.”


The film has a 97 percent fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and continues to break box office records. It was the fifth-largest opening weekend in the U.S. with $202 million, the second-highest second weekend with $111 million, and the third-highest third weekend with $66 million. It is currently the ninth highest domestic grossing film of all time and and surpassed $500 million in just 17 days from domestic box office returns.


As Strong left the movie theater, she said she left feeling empowered. “It’s really important for people to see themselves represented on camera, especially for the younger generation. Movies are very influential. While I can’t relate to the race aspect, growing up I never saw many strong female characters. This movie had plenty for both groups–race and gender.”


For others, however, these concealed messages took away from the movie. Kinsey Brown, a senior studying biomed from California, shared how she comes to watch Marvel movies solely for their entertainment value. “I think the social issues took away from the movie. We’re all familiar with the history. Wakanda is a made up country that wasn’t involved with any of that. I could understand the points they made, but it’s all things we were taught in school.


“I was a little disappointed when I saw it. Everyone was hyping it up. Black Panther’s character was really awesome in ‘Civil War.’ I think the biggest buzzkill for me was that it wasn’t as comical and didn’t connect to the main plot line as other Marvel movies like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ did.”


For Brown, the movie wasn’t the best that it could have been. “With it being the last Marvel movie before ‘Infinity War,’ I expected it to tie in more. I enjoyed the movie, but it just wasn’t one of my favorite Marvel movies. It just didn’t seem like a superhero film to me.”


Even with the controversy, Landgraf hopes filmmakers will continue to produce movies with diverse cultural casts. “I really hope that movie production studios get the idea that people are interested in seeing this representation with other cultures. What made Disney’s ‘Coco’ really popular and really successful is it told an original story. They could find really unique niches of people and stories and make them into movies. They would see more success and we would see less carbon copies of every movie we have already watched."


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Date Published: 
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, March 6, 2018