Post-Black Panther Is Comic-Con Catching Up?

Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images.
Few people could have known for sure that Black Panther would become the massive global phenomenon that it is. Still playing in select theaters five months after its initial release, the film has grossed a little over $1.3 billion globally, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of all time, and the highest grossing film to be directed by a Black director, Ryan Coogler. To date, it comes in just above Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 in terms of sales and is still adding to its box office take.
This is big news, not just for Marvel Studios and distributor Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, but for Black people around the world who came together under a sense of shared identity thanks to the film. Black Panther stands out as a mainstream superhero film with a mostly Black cast that addresses issues that are most relevant to Black communities. It's the first of its kind. It was also a major win for diversity in Hollywood and a huge moment for Blerds (Black nerds), who are only just starting to be acknowledged as members of the comic community.
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If Black Panther was the one of biggest pop-culture sensations to penetrate the mainstream in 2018, and simultaneously a huge engagement catalyst for Black comic fans and other Blerds, then it makes sense that the industry built around those characters and stories would reflect that, right? Comic-Con International is the largest annual gathering of comic fans in the world. Fans everywhere flock to California each year for days of expos, cosplaying, workshops, panels, and other events focused on just about every nook and cranny of popular comic culture. Fans of shows like Riverdale and Star Wars — which are great, but also really white — get go full-out stan for the franchises they love. Is it possible that Black Panther could have added some diversity to the convention's lineup? Judging by the panels and fan responses, the B.P. effect was in full force in San Diego this weekend.
The four-day event concluded on Sunday, and familiar Black faces from the comic-adjacent world of film and television were notably present. Zazie Beetz was glowing when she appeared with the rest of the cast of Deadpool 2, in which she plays Domino. On the Fantastic Beasts panel in the con's famed Hall H, which holds up to 6,500 people, Zoe Kravitz said she would use a magic spell to impeach Trump. Black Panther star Danai Gurira once again appeared on the Walking Dead panel. The creators of the CW’s Black Lightning, Salim and Mara Brock-Akil, spoke about diversity alongside the mostly Black cast. Per one attendee, the costuming panel with Black costume designer Ruth Carter reached capacity, with some people unable to get in. Panels like “Black and Queer in Pop Culture” examined the absence of Black queer characters, while “Afrofuturism: Black to the Future!” examined the opportunities available to creators of color in Hollywood.
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When asked if they thought Comic-Con was more or less Black in the wake of Black Panther's massive success, the attendees to which Refinery29 spoke offered a resounding yes. One guest, Tiffie Starchild, noted that she sees more and more Black people at Comic-Con every year. But this year she loved that she saw "Black nerds all across the spectrum — all genders, all body types, and all ages."
Andrien Gbinigie, a cosplayer who attended his third Comic-Con this year and even cosplayed as Black Panther’s protagonist T’Challa, said that it definitely felt Blacker. “I saw a lot more Black bloggers, hosts, and cosplayers than I usually do. There were a lot more Black women on panels this year than usual.”
Alexis Victorious cosplayed as Shuri, the younger, smarter teenaged sister of T’Challa. She “found it refreshing” that thanks to film, other attendees didn’t automatically call her Storm (the prominent Black superhero from the X-Men series). “I definitely got the feeling that artists and vendors were making the effort to be more inclusive when I was cosplaying Black Panther,” she explained. “I didn’t get that as much when I was cosplaying Wonder Woman [on a different day], however. Some photographers and cosplayers definitely went out of their way to avoid photos with me [when cosplaying Wonder Woman].” Not only has the comic industry noticed the impact of Black Panther, it is acting accordingly by accommodating and selling to fans. However, Alexis’ experience while cosplaying a white character is proof that Comic-Con did not suddenly become a utopia of inclusivity in the wake of one Marvel movie.
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Drew Jones attended Comic-Con with press credentials on behalf of AfterBuzz TV. From her spot in the press booth, she noticed that the convention was “still very, very white.” Not only was she often the only Black person in the rooms that were accessible to press, she observed that “Black Lightning and Cloak & Dagger were the only shows where I felt at home and wasn’t suspiciously asked for my credentials.” She added, “I really enjoyed myself this weekend, but I think we still have a very, very, very long way to go.”
Comic-Con’s Black engagement is multifaceted and deeper than its lineup and vendors, though. It is important to keep in mind that it takes a relative amount of privilege to attend the event. In 2018, badges were $60 per day. Travel to San Diego and lodging accommodations are guaranteed to spike in cost for the event that sells out every year and attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. Cosplaying alone can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. However, we can look at the success of gatherings like ESSENCE Fest as proof that Black people are willing to spend money on experiences that represent their identities and bring them into the fold.
As a hub to bring comic fanatics together with the creators and sponsors of their favorite franchises, Comic-Con only reflects the existing landscape. So long as Black people are struggling to be represented in this area of pop culture, the struggle to find Black people at Comic-Con will be real. Giving more Blerds a seat at the table within comic books, series, and films will certainly help. While Black Panther was a huge catalyst, it cannot and does not carry the weight of all Blerds on its shoulders.
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