Black Panther: Power with Responsibility and Black Imagery

Black Panther has pulled in over $700 million in ticket sales worldwide in under two weeks. Its vibranium-esque performance has had many talking. The media has been reporting all the records the film has broken and those it will certainly break. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are raving over T’Challa’s role in future MCU films. But most of all Black people are excited by this film and what it represents, not least of all the imagery of Black people that does not adhere to overused, tired stereotypes. No, this film portrays Black power, Black scientific and technological advancements the likes of which have never been seen in a Blockbuster film.

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The issue of those with power having the responsibility to be good stewards is a central theme in the movie, and the cause for contention between the protagonist, T’Challa, and his cousin, Killmonger. Should self-preservation be the sole priority of a small group with enough resources to share, even as members of the larger group suffer, mainly from lack of resources? But how does one address such passivity to the suffering of members of the larger group? Kill the passive leader, take over as ruler, and kill the oppressors? These are two extremes, hence, neither is ideal.

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Certainly, Wakanda possessed enough to give aid to other ‘third-world’ countries like itself – or as most people assume it to be. Other African countries were raped of their resources, but Wakanda thwarted such attempts. So why wouldn’t they assist their neighbours to fight off would-be-colonisers, but rather sit and watch the Trans-Atlantic slave trade occur and do nothing? I understand the cause of Killmonger’s anger towards Wakanda’s leaders, especially having experienced oppression himself as a Black man in America. Of course, T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka murdering Killmonger’s father did not help the situation either.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Black Panther shows Black excellence. Little Black children can see characters who look like them being beautiful, smart, strong, wise and good. Image(ry) is everything, and that is why White people have produced movies depicting White people being heroes who do good and save the day. The image of Black people, on the other hand, has gotten a bad rap in the majority of films. The Black man is usually a drug dealer, a sellout, or a simpleton.

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The Black woman is usually a maid or a prostitute, and is always angry. And while one could say “… but White people play negative roles too…”, they are not defined by these roles and are seen merely as skilled actors playing a part. However, the typical roles of Black people in film have been seen as our identity and reinforce the negative stereotypes. Films like Black Panther are helping to change those views little by little. A Black king, a Black female general, a Black female scientist —Black people are not a monolith, and representation matters.

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Time will tell how this affects future roles of Black actors, but if Black Panther is anything to go by, the future looks great for Black representation in film.

Copyright © Larisa McBean

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