As a child I remember watching Disney movies, full of imagination and wonder at the array of characters and their noble quests. What must it be like to save a beautiful princess from her wicked family? What must it be like to live happily ever after, surrounded by generations of family and loved ones? I pondered long and hard as to why I didn’t see people who looked like me in the movies. Where was my Cinderella or Snow White? Why was prince charming primarily caucasian? I didn’t know, nor could I communicate it at the time, but an identity complex began to set in from very young. As I aged out of traditional Disney movies, the portrayals of other blacks around me became increasingly negative. I began to see myself as the black guy on Cops, running away from the police. The “super-predator” lurking in the shadows of the night. The high school dropout who would amount to a life of crime then imprisonment. Where was my superhero?
Ahead of the North American release, I decided to take advantage of the fact that Black Panther was already playing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is the eighth film I’ve seen on this tour with my organisation across four different continents. We’ve grown accustomed to having the cinema mostly to ourselves. Black Panther was different. The first day we tried to see it earlier this week we were turned away as the cinema was sold out. Upon arriving to the cinema the next day, I was pleased to share in the excitement of a movie which is a strong shift in a new direction for Hollywood.
Young and old alike packed the cinema. Malay parents and children. Indian children with their parents, cousins and grandparents. Chinese college students and teenagers alike, all packed into the cinema. Even with the amazing trailers, I don’t think anyone was prepared for the richness of storytelling and complexity of characters that Marvel’s “Black Panther,” starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett was about to deliver.
Storylines in Hollywood have historically pandered towards the likeness of what the movie machine refers to as the majority. Box office, marketing dollars and casting have primarily been in line with caucasian audiences, their stories and their experiences. Everyone else has had to identify as best they can, in spite of the lack of representation and lack of dynamism in their portrayals when they are granted. Roles are allocated and cast through boxed-in stereotypes that are outdated, irrelevant and lack the richness of many cultures. Black Panther is the first global superhero film by any studio to feature a majority black cast and a black director. The film has already pre-sold more than any other superhero movie at the same point in its life cycle.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA said, “Black Panther could help shake up the way Hollywood does business by defying assumptions about films with predominantly black casts and filmmakers. Most movies with black casts, producers and directors are made with low budgets and marketed to American audiences, not international crowds. Black Panther, by contrast, is getting a global release and marketing push from Disney. There aren’t many examples of African American directors being given that kind of opportunity to make a big-budget movie with a black cast and a global marketing campaign. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate the box-office power of this type of storytelling. This film, on both the cultural and economic fronts, has the potential to be a powerhouse.”
To date, Black Panther, has already hauled in $235m (£167m) in North America over the four day holiday weekend. In the UK, its box office roar achieved £10.48m over the three day period, and £17.7m including previews on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The Guardian reports, “Black Panther has achieved the second-biggest UK opening for a Marvel title, after The Avengers: Age of Ultron (£18.1m). Overall, Black Panther, delivered $169m in non-US markets, which makes for a global debut of $404m. Russia, Japan and China have yet to open.”
We can only hope that this powerhouse success represents a shift in paradigm. A blockbuster than will pave the way for stories from a rich diversity of cultures and ethnic backgrounds to be told in the mainstream.