Earlier today, the internet lost it when Lupita Nyong’o posted a photo of herself as Nakia in Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther movie. The studio, which brings fan-favorite comic book heroes to the big screen, has been releasing trailers and clips for the film all year. It will arrive in theaters on February 16, 2018, and it already feels like a natural next step in diversifying the genre that has been criticized for failing to present diverse characters. 2017 has seen several notable characters that have decentered white maleness as the baseline for badassness. Black fans in particular have been able to rally around several superheroes who share their identity, and things are looking up for the genre.
Despite the omnipresence of comic book characters in popular culture, I can only think of a few Black superheroes off the top of my head that have appeared in blockbusters. X-Men’s Storm and Blade the vampire hunter are among them. When Luke Cage debuted on Netflix last year it marked the beginning of a shift that thrusted Black heroes into my purview. When Luke Cage’s titular character appeared in The Defenders alongside Danny Rand a.k.a. Iron Fist, he called out white privilege while working to save the world. It was an amazing moment that perfectly merged the fantasy and real worlds.
In the months that followed, announcements about The CW’s Black Lightning, one of DC’s first Black superheroes, hinted at even more mergers like this. Atlanta star Zazie Beetz flipped the traditional look of Deadpool 2’s Domino character on it’s head. When Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, appeared in Thor: Ragnarok, we questioned whether or not her full humanity, and sexuality, was being honored in her portrayal. Black characters, and the cultural issues that are important to them, are starting to take up more space in the superhero genre. And it’s about damn time.
Black Panther is about the up the ante even more. It’s Marvel’s first movie lead by a Black superhero, and the first one with a predominantly Black cast. The film is about a king, T’Challa a.k.a. The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) defending his kingdom of Wakanda. With cries for diversity appearing to be answered, I can’t help but consider the battle for Wakanda to be a symbolic one. It feels like it could easily represent the growing sentiment that people of color are in the genre to stay, and their representation is worth fighting for.
In the same way that Black Panther has come to fruition riding the wave of excitement over Luke Cage, I’m hopeful that it will open the floodgates for a completely new type of action movie. And in the same way that Get Out reframed the source of fear and danger for Black people, I think that Black Panther could very well give us a few good reasons why the world as we know it needs saving.
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