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'Black Panther' is for every black kid who thought 'We didn't do stuff like that'

Brandon T. Harden, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

In "Black Panther," T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the fictional African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king, only to find his throne and legacy in jeopardy. T'Challa must harness the full power of the Black Panther in order to defeat a longtime enemy (Michael B. Jordan), thus preserving the kingdom and the safety of the world.

Finally, a story of a black hero with African roots is being told. And while Black Panther is not the only superhero that's part of the current cultural conversation -- Netflix's "Luke Cage," the CW's "Black Lightning" -- "Black Panther" feels bigger. It's a part of the Marvel Universe, which has generated billions of dollars, and the film lends itself to a larger conversation of the many nuances of black aesthetics.

The first look at the heart-pumping "Black Panther" trailer instantly went viral. Not only have we never seen a superhero from the black perspective, audiences have access to an all-star black cast including Oscar winners Lupita Nyong'o and Forest Whitaker, Oscar nominees Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya, as well as "Walking Dead" star Danai Gurira.

"What's not to love about an all-black universe where black people are not only royalty but superheroes? In a moment where black is not only beautiful but extremely hot, (black) people can't wait to (see) themselves depicted in a way that we haven't necessarily been depicted before," said Philadelphia-based cultural critic and filmmaker Shantrelle P. Lewis. "In a sea of black moviegoers, indulging in ("Black Panther") is a very black experience."

It's also worth mentioning the underestimation of the black dollar. Although diversity has arguably been one of Hollywood's most problematic limitations, black films have recently and consistently outperformed expectations. Movies like "Girls Trip," "Hidden Figures," "Get Out," "The Best Man Holiday" and "Moonlight" dispel the myth that black stories aren't sought after by mass audiences.

"Black Panther" is the type of film that's desperately needed in a society where white supremacy is being taken to task and conversations on inclusion have become more prevalent. The movie has already started to transcend the silver screen by sparking discourse around the sovereignty and ingenuity of blackness. The idea of an advanced civilization where black people thrive in the absence of whiteness, in and of itself, is a bold and provocative notion.

"Black Panther," even weeks before it's released, is a beacon of hope, bridging traditional African tribal culture to a modern, technologically advanced world. It's a representation of Afrofuturism that's now available to a broad audience. For so long, pioneers of Afrofuturism, like rapper Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and singer/actress Janelle Monae and author Octavia Butler and artist Kerry James Marshall, have ushered blackness into the exclusive white spaces of sci-fi and fantasy. "Black Panther" furthers that mission by bringing imagery and storylines to a plot that wouldn't have graced the big screen years ago.

 

Traditionally, Black History Month, has been a time of appreciation and reflection of African American culture. Every year we show reverence for the courageous figures that made it possible for people like Barack Obama and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce to have platforms to influence the world. This year, Black Panther allows us to peer into the future, to gaze at the possibility of what blackness can become.

"Black Panther" sends a message that blackness can and should be portrayed in every beautiful, complex, dense way that it exists. "Black Panther" may not solve the disparity of inequality or underrepresentation, but to know that I, too, can break historical barriers heals the inadequacy I felt as a kid.

We can do stuff like this.

(c)2018 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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