I'm sure everyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows what Black Panther is. It's the first major superhero movie starring a black lead and directed by black man that's receiving critical praise (I know the Blade movies predate it, but they weren't directed by black directors and weren't critical darlings.) This is a big deal, especially since superheroes have been at the forefront of mainstream film culture for over two decades and haven't made gains on proper representation for minorities. To paraphrase an old mantra, Black Panther matters.
Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way. The existence of early-backlash against the film has been centre-stage for weeks now. This isn't new, Frozen and Selma also received pre-release pushback, but it's especially egregious in light of the circumstances leading up to it. For one, there's the anti-Disney/Marvel group that claims Disney's buying good press. There's a lot to be unpacked here about how ridiculous that is, but I think Bob Chipman did a better job than I ever could.
The bigger pushback, I think, comes from an underlying paranoia. Like the recent Star Wars films, Black Panther's become the victim of angry nerds who feel Hollywood's leaving them behind. But since they have no control over that, their only outlet of venting is to down-rate the film. It's as sad as it sounds.
It's worth noting that, despite its perceived status as a bastion of social progress, Hollywood's still largely ethnocentric in its casting and storytelling. Most individuals working in the industry are white, straight men, and their output reflects that. In an article written on July 31st, 2017, Variety noted that little social progress has been made in Hollywood over the last decade. To quote the article directly:
"…[O]f the films surveyed in 2016, 31.4% of speaking characters were female, unchanged from 2015 and not much higher than the 29.9% logged in 2007. The overall ratio of male to female characters was 2.3 to 1, and 34 films had a female lead or co-lead, compared to 32 in 2015…
This snippet highlights the disparity between perception and reality. Hard-right critics of Hollywood like to point out the "liberal agenda", but the truth suggests otherwise: Hollywood talks the talk, but refuses to walk the walk. And in an increasingly-globalized world, the leading outsource of global entertainment is failing to keep up. Which is all-the-more reason minority voices of any kind should get their dues, as that's the only way for change to happen.
…70.8% of speaking roles in 2016's top 100 were white, far outweighing the tallies for characters who were black (13.6%), Asian (5.7%), Hispanic (3.1%), or other (7%)…72 of 2016's top 100 films had no Hispanic or Latina female speaking roles, and 91 had none for LGBTQ females.
Women were underrepresented behind the scenes…making up 4.2% of directors, 13.2% of writers, 20.7% of producers, and just 1.7% of composers…[O]nly 34 unique female directors that released films between 2007 and 2016 (excluding 2011).
Male gay characters were among the few demographics to rise year-on-year, up to 36 speaking roles in 2016 from 19 in 2015...The 2.7% of characters with disabilities in 2016 films was about on par with the 2.4% reported in 2015."
Ryan Coogler's prior films. I wanted to watch Fruitvale Station when it was in theatres in 2013, since 2013 was an awful Summer for blockbusters, but due to circumstances not within my control it never happened. Creed was intriguing, but I decided to skip it because I hadn't watched the Rocky movies prior. I feel bad, especially since I loved Michael B. Jordan in Chronicle, but it simply wasn't meant to be. And that's why I'm excited to finally catch Black Panther, as I get to see a new and exciting voice tackle a comic book character. That the reviews have been great so far helps.
This is also why the racist backlash is so concerning. Not only is this a Marvel movie, but it's a character based on an obscure property like so many of The MCU's prior films. We've embraced a guy in a suit of armour, a green monster, a Norse demigod, a genetically-engineered super-solider, a rag-tag group of space scoundrels (one of whom is a talking tree), a guy who can communicate with ants and a sorcerer who can bend dimensions, but a black man in a cat suit? That's pushing it!
That isn't to say Black Panther will be flawless, or that there won't be legit reasons to end up not liking it. But that so many of the complaints lobbed against this film come from having a black lead makes me sad. People are also whining that there are only two white people in the entire cast, to which I reply with "How does it feel?" Because movies have so frequently done the reverse that, as with last year's Wonder Woman, having an underrepresented demographic be at the forefront is a nice change of pace.
Besides, Black Panther, judging by early box-office estimates, will have intensely high turn-outs from audiences, including audiences of colour who wouldn't otherwise see movies in theatres. Like it or not, representation matters because it means that people care. You're not simply a wingman to someone else. And given there are other groups of people than straight, white males, isn't that good?
Captain Marvel movie next year. And a Wonder Woman 2. And I'm sure that won't be the end of it. And if you can't accept that? Well…no one's forcing you to watch these movies, right?
Really, this backlash is a lack of understanding of what it means to share. There's a reason that people are taught how to share when they're babies, as it's an important life-skill. By letting Black Panther exist, you're sharing with black filmgoers. Why's that so bad?
I guess the racist backlash will have to be shown up by opportunities for inclusive film-going. I know there's been an initiative to help students from underprivileged communities watch the film for free, and I strongly support that. Because if Iron Man and Spider-Man are allowed to be heroes in 2018, then so should Black Panther. I only hope that people realize that soon enough…