WILL THE SUCCESS OF BLACK PANTHER BE A CHANGE OR TREND?
“Of course this film is for everyone, but it is unapologetically Black”
The crowd and I roared in excitement and pride to Clara Amfo’s statement as she stood in front of the screen at the Black Panther European premiere at the Hammersmith Apollo. To the majority black audience members her remark was more than just a mere statement for us but an embodiment of the significance of this film. For years as a passionate moviegoer I have been relegated to only seeing characters that look like me as savages, slaves, criminals, civil rights activists, sufferers and sidekicks to White Superheroes. I’ve been constantly told by entertainment executives that films featuring my people don’t sell well and only work as mid budget films marketed toward a niche audience, such as the Best Man movies and anything with Tyler Perry’s name on it. I mean don’t get me wrong, every now and then I would get a big budget or out of the box film that would feature a Black guy, but that guy was only Will Smith or Denzel.
So when Black Panther was officially announced back in 2014, it felt like a dream of mine was about to come true though I had my concerns. Will the movie feature a white saviour? Will the director and those behind the scenes be Black? If he’s African American will he do proper research on Africa and not view it as one country? Will there be any actual Africans in the movie? Can they get the accents right? Fortunately all of my concerns were vanquished as I watched the film, although Forest Whittaker’s accent was quite interesting (but hey Wakanda is a fictional country so I can’t be too harsh right?).
What makes this movie truly unapologetically Black, is not the fact that it features an all black cast but the movie features nuances and complexities of the Black experience that… well only Black people can relate to duh! This is something that only fully hit me after seeing the movie for a second time. At the European Premiere the audience members were predominantly Black. At my second viewing the audience was a more mixed crowd and certain moments in the movie got different reactions from the first crowd than it did the second.
Take the fight in the Korean casino scene for example, when Dora Milaje head honcho, Okoye took off her wig and threw it in one of the faces of the thugs she was about to beat up, Black Women in my first viewing’s audience went nuts. I’m sure they perceived that moment to be a middle finger to Western beauty standards. Standards they have been unfairly forced to conform to for centuries. The audience my second time round didn’t react at all. When Martin Freeman’s character asked T’Challa if Okoye could speak English after being insulted by her in Wakandan she defiantly responded “when she wants to”. This resulted in many “Ooh that’s right you tell him” and “Ayee’s” from the premiere’s crowd. The second viewing’s crowd were as silent as church mice. When Killmonger hilariously addressed Queen Ramonda as “Hey Aunty” after revealing he was a Wakandan, we all cracked up with laughter at the first viewing. The second viewings audience did what? Yeah I think you get the pattern by now.
In terms of the complexities of the Black experience being represented in the film, Michael B Jordan’s character served as a metaphor for the complex relationship between Africans and African Americans. (A topic which I have expressed my passion for before). His interactions with the films other characters illustrated the hypocrisy and hostility that can be found on BOTH sides of the relationship and that is something that us Black people could only understand. All of this and the featuring of full dimensional Black female characters in the film made this film a dream come true for Black moviegoers and this dream is only about to become sweeter.
At the time of this writing, Black Panther is projected to make $220 million in it’s opening weekend, placing it among the top five biggest box office opening weekends in history. This is the culmination of a what one could call a Black Renaissance in mainstream film and television over the last few years. We’ve witnessed a string of Black stories being told from different perspectives in both film and television. There has been a streak of records being broken by Black films as well. From Straight Outta Compton becoming the highest grossing music biopic. To Get Out becoming the most profitable film in Box office history. To Girls Trip being the biggest live action comedy of 2017 (a film starring black women!). Black Panther’s opening weekend can be seen as the cherry on top for this trend and is sure to kickstart a trend of more sci fi/fantasy stories based on Black cultures.
And that is what I am afraid of. This simply being a TREND. As we know trends are not forever.
Ever since the #OscarsSoWhite debacle, diversity has been the number one trending topic in Hollywood over the last few years. There is a public outcry whenever something is whitewashed or people of colour are misrepresented in a film or television show. Diversity is now trendy and quite frankly that is not good enough. They say history repeats itself once it is forgotten and this is not the first time there has been a wave of predominantly Black characters in film and television. In the 1970s we had a string of Blaxploitation films. The 1990s saw a wave of films and television shows starring and being made by Black people. The early 2000s continued this trend but by the mid 2000s it all disappeared.
Will we witness this current wave end too? Or will this mark a permanent change and renovation of the racist structures in Hollywood? I am proud of what Black Panther has achieved and represented but what I look forward to the most is when the success of a black movie on such a scale isn’t hyped up because it is a Black movie. I look forward to when it is hyped up because it as an entertaining movie alone. When a movie like this is the norm. I look forward to the day a movie starring Black people on a blockbuster budget is not only made by Black people but is FINANCED by Black owned studios. I look forward to the day Hollywood films are made showing Africa and its various countries in a positive light and will star actual African actors and actresses in lead roles. I just look forward to the day when such a moment like this is standard practice. I’m sure that day will come and this weekend will be looked back on as the weekend that cemented this.
We’ve proven time and time again that Hollywood’s myth of “Black movies don’t sell” is simply that..a myth! Will Hollywood finally realise this? Or will we keep repeating the same frustrating cycle. Only time will tell. Till then..
Words by Noel