Recently, the success of Black Panther has exceeded even the most wildest of expectations, having passed 1 billion world wide, then 1.25 billion, and now has sailed past the record set by Titanic by James Cameron.
Heck, Black Panther will also be the first movie screened in Saudi Arabia after its 35 year cinema ban ends. Quite the extra achievement there.
And expectations were indeed high for Black Panther, not merely because of it being the first Marvel Studios film to star and feature a black superhero with his name in the title, but because of the context of such a film overall in Hollywood. I’ve written before about the expectations placed upon films that feature anyone other than straight, white, and male leads, and how such high expectations has lead to a self fulfilling prophecy of failure due to a lack of behind the scenes energy and dedication that other films get.
Fortunately, Black Panther got Gold Star treatment in its development, with Ryan Coogler directing, with Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa and surrounded by amazing actors and actresses such as Lupita N’young, Winston Duke, and Danai Gurira. In fact, Black Panther is the rare Marvel Studios film that can actually stand on its own, connected only marginally to the rest of the MCU, which is just another feather in its cap of wings.
However, some people didn’t take Black Panther’s success as the wonderful event that it continues to be, including one Forbes movie reviewer named Scott Mendelson, in an article that had originally been titled “Box Office: ‘Black Panther’ Has Become Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare.”
Reading the article is like reading a long winded scree from Helen Lovejoy, except replace children with movies that don’t star white leads.
And if you’ve read it, then please check out this rebuttal from Sydney Scott of Essence.com to help clear the palette and break down a lot of what was wrong with Scott Mendelson’s article, even after he changed the title.
The thing is, Scott Mendelson does have a point, even if his article goes on to make it in the worst possible way.
Because you see, Black Panther IS Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare, for all the right reasons.
Black Panther is not only a success story, but it’s a success story of a story made by, for, and about black people that comes with a billion dollar plus exclamation point that, in my opinion, shifts the goalpost of what it takes to have a successful film in Hollywood.
And what it takes is more than just white people making and starring in such films, because if there’s one thing that Black Panther shines the light on, it’s the lie that a successful film has to have white people direct it and star in it.
In thinking about this article, I was reminded about Dwayne McDuffie and an interview he had in which he discussed his time coming onto the Justice League comic as a writer, and his involuntary violation of the Rule of 3, which you can watch here:
And Dwayne still very much well has a point here, about how a segment of the superhero genre audience can’t see a black protagonist do something that Batman would do because they’re black, because they can’t relate to that character.
And what the Black Panther movie has done, and a part of me wishes that Dwayne McDuffie was still around to see it, is to prove that aspect of the superhero genre audience wrong, oh so VERY wrong.
What superhero movies have done is to take superheroes out of comics and given them to a wider range of audience members, thus bypassing a lot of gatekeepers along the way. Because believe you me, if there’s one thing gatekeepers hate, it’s new fans who aren’t the same skin colour, gender, and sexual orientation as them.
But, to get back to the original point, Black Panther came, it saw, it kicked ass in being so wildly successful, that I believe other films will be compared to it. Other people of other marginalized communities are going to look to it as the goal post by which to compare other films and ask questions such as:
“Black Panther had a majourity black cast and crew and was successful. Why not an all Asian cast for this movie? Why was this one native character the lone stand in for all native people? Why do we even need the lone white guy to relate to for this film?”
And to be fair, people of marginalized communities have been asking these questions and more for years now, especially in regards to Marvel Films, which saw heavy criticism for its orientalism in Doctor Strange and Iron Fist. However, these questions are going to be louder, especially with Black Panther’s billion dollar plus exclamation point backing them up.
Hence, why Scott Mendelson’s article is so full of fear. Change is pretty scary when you’ve been the one on top for so long that you’ve grown stagnant and mediocre, and to see anything else bypass you that it demands an immediate tearing down.
I believe it also helps that Black Panther isn’t the only one to present black people as a diverse group of people represented by more than just 3 people on screen. Luke Cage was wildly successful, featuring a majourity black cast and crew, and the CW’s Black Lightning has been doing so well, the first season isn’t even done yet and it’s been renewed for a second season.
It’s certainly my hope that this success continues and spreads out to include members of other marginalized communities.