Behold! Wakanda is here to stay and how!
Let me put this politically with no strings attached. When Donald Trump won the Presidency of the US, it was a moment of a reckoning for a lot of people. Activist Van Jones called it a "WhiteLash against a Black President" referring to the massive votes polled by Trump in the mid western states of America where a large white population of people still remain unemployed. Like to add a caveat that I am apolitical to say the least when it comes to US politics.
Well, in a funny way Black Panther just did a "BlackLash against an army of White Superhero movies" to say the least. As i write this Blog, BP will have grossed $ 1 Billion globally at the box office. Trade Pundits have estimated a lifetime haul of $1.2 Billion for the movie making it the biggest solo superhero film of all times. Not to mention it will give a huge fillip to "Avengers:Infinity War" which is up for release next month.
POPULAR CULTURE AND THE BLACK SUPERHERO GENRE
In the comic books world, where Batman,Superman,Iron Man, Spiderman, Thor, Hulk, Flash etc are all created white superheroes, it reflects the truth behind the stereo type of Hollywood content. "Only a white man usually saves the world" in the superhero movies largely. To be fair, its not about race. Its about the changing global consumer and the age of social media. Its interesting to note that Black Panther (created by legend Stan Lee and Joe Kirby) is the third attempt at launching an African American as a Superhero. In 1997 "Spawn" (based on Image Comics superhero) starring Michael Jai White (fondly remembered as the mafiosi who opposed The Joker in "The Dark Knight") was released to an average box office. An year later , Marvel went full throttle on superstar Wesley Snipes with "Blade" with resounding success garnering over $131 Million at the box office. Its sequel "Blade 2" was directed by none other than Guillermo Del Toro! The third Blade instalment starred A Listers Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel. All these amazing efforts were'nt able to sustain as they were way ahead of times. Another success was the Will Smith starrer "Hancock".
Hollywood has traditionally supported and worshipped heroes of the African American community. Oscar winning actors who are a huge draw such as Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman who largely play character centric parts w such as real life icons like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King to music legends to sportsmen such a Michael Jordan and to even gangsters like Frank Lucas. This is all changing now! with the advent of Black Panther.
THE BLACK PANTHER EXPERIMENT OF MARVEL AND DISNEY
It has been decades since Black Panther comics have been in print and have been fairly well received with comic book readers but were never thought to be big enough for a movie. BP appeared in "Fantastic Four" comics of Marvel in 1966. And after that numerous titles of the BP have been released.
First major motion picture appearance happened in "Captain America: Civil War" where T'Challa comes with his father T'Chaka at a UN meet in Vienna and the King dies in a fatal attack. T'Challa then assumes the throne of Wakanda. Here very skilfully Marvel team inserted these characters to make sure audience become curious about them. In addition, King T'Chaka talks about "Vibranium" at the event minutes before he dies.
Yet again Legendary African actor John Kani was chosen to play T'Chaka to maximum effect. Audience grew curious and crazy about the Black Panther and his world of Wakanda.
And then Marvel bought Ryan Coogler(Creed) to helm the project with Chadwick Boseman as the lead and Michael B Jordan as the antagonist Erik Killmonger.
images like the above Funko Pop version of Black Panther started cropping up on social media after the announcement of the movie.
Barrack Obama:- An Inflection point in popular culture
Obama may be out of office but his brand has gone to monumental levels even after he had left the White House. Throughout the year, As media was hammering Trump and his statements, a sharp rise on Obama's popularity was seen. Political pundits clearly stated that they missed his regime and his way of governance and communication. This went to such a level that recently The Obamas have signed up with Netflix to produce TV shows on their view of the world. I feel that this does'nt have any direct bearing on the success of Black Panther, but one cant help but notice that the word yearend to see a different superhero. But one can definitely agree to the fact that all this was building momentum of a paradigm shift in the world of movies and superheroes.
The events since last year and the need for a film like Black Panther in today's day and age
A few political events too affected and coincided with the release of the film. Firstly, Trump's statements on immigrants added fuel to a public outrage. Secondly, the mass boycott of Oscars last year due to lack of recognition of Non White actors also made situations worse. Thirdly, the massive success of "Get Out"directed by Jordan Peele took the box office by storm. "Get Out" was a horror film but it also put racism in its narrative. All these incidents may have no direct bearing on the movie and its success but it did create a platform for a seminal work.
THE BLACK PANTHER STRATEGY
1. For the first time, A non white superhero movie which totally hinges on the protagonist and his world. It might be noted that no other superhero from the Marvel universe makes an appearance in the movie. It solely T'Challa's game. It also underlines the fact that Black Panther is very much the centerstage of future Marvel projects.
2. The movie lives its authenticity in the roots of its characters. The African accent of the lead cast although its mainly American shows the studio's commitment to tell the story in its original form. Something which has not been seen recently. There is a brief reference to Oakland, California in the beginning and end but its an African superhero's journey.
3. The choice of the cast which includes Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N'yango, Danai Gurira, Angela Basset, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Michael B Jordan shows the underlining strategy of the best of talent from across the globe.
4. The city of Wakanda and Vibranium are one of the unique selling proposition of the film. As its like a "new world within an old world".
In many ways, Marvel has championed the cause of diversity in Hollywood by bringing and producing Black Panther. The age of stereotypes might be over and conventions are being turned upside down!