Putting aside its very Black cast and crew, "Black Panther" is the ultimate Hollywood superhero flick. There are the requisite ripped bodies fighting for good or evil, buildings exploding, luxury cars speeding and superpowers tested. And yet, this film has become a major cultural moment, with recordbreaking pre-sales, community events, anticipatory hashtags, ticket donations to children, plans to wear special outfits and more. We checked in with five Black activists and creators to find out what makes "Black Panther" so important.
What’s your connection to the Black Panther character?
It’s actually an angry geek girl rant. [Laughs.] I started reading “Black Panther” in the early ‘00s with Reggie Hudlin’s run on the book. I was really enjoying it up until the point where Black Panther and Storm got married. They make sense as a couple, but I had my own idea of who I wanted her to be with. She was actually with that person in the comics, up until they do the marriage stunt. They then dropped all the other storylines I’d invested in. Black Panther was, at the time, more of a B character, and Storm was on the A team. Their wedding pushed her to the background. I feel like Marvel made it more of a spectacle to get Black readership. Nothing about it made sense.
But are you excited for the movie?
[Laughs.] I was really excited when Black Panther showed up in “Captain America: Civil War.” His scenes were some of my favorites, and it renewed my love for the character. I am genuinely excited about this movie. I think “Black Panther” is going to smash every record, and not give any place for Hollywood executives to say, “Black movies don’t do well.” It’s a Black male-led film, but the Dora Milaje, his wives-in-waiting and imperial guard, are still going to be heavily prevalent. My hope is that we build on that momentum, and we get more action superhero movies with female leads—and specifically female leads of color. I hope that this movie’s place in history will open more doors for Hollywood.
You saw “Black Panther” at the purple carpet premiere in Hollywood. What was that like?
All of Black Hollywood was there. I’m in the Dolby Theater, and Donald Glover was behind me. Then I turn around, and I see Janelle Monáe. And then, Ava DuVernay‘s walking past me. It was a pretty surreal experience. You could feel the energy in the room. It was lit. I’m planning to go again, to a third-day screening with my mom.
What relationship did you have with the Black Panther character before this film?
I started reading comics when I was 9 years old. I was mostly into the X-Men but I knew about Black Panther and his lore. I even remember the BET animated series. When the film was announced to the masses, I talked about it a great deal on not only the Black Girl Nerds podcast, but also “Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro," my other podcast that focuses on Black superheroines.
What are your hopes for the movie?
I hope that the momentum builds and is sustainable. I hope people do “Black Panther” syllabi, and continue to have podcast conversations and panels and events. There’s a lot to behold with this cinematic experience, and we’re seeing a lot of firsts. One of the things I’ve been mentioning to people: the Dora Milaje and Shuri are now action figures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Black woman as an action figure. Dolls? Yes. But action figures? No.
Executive director of Color of Change, which recently published “Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America."
Did you have a connection with the Black Panther character before this movie?
I’m not a comics person, but I knew about what Reginald Hudlin did on the comics. I assumed that a solo movie was a goal, and hoped that they would do it right, with a Black director who would go for the spirit that Hudlin and others were trying to do with the writing.
Describe that "spirit."
An unapologetically Black theme that didn’t play into the ways that Hollywood dealt with colorism in casting or the ways in which colonialism is dealt with in films. I also hoped that the movie would have the kind of budget and effects that the other Marvel movies get.
What’s your biggest hope for "Black Panther"?
I hope that Black kids and other kids of color are able to see themselves in a new way. From the Hollywood perspective, I hope that this movie is not seen as an anomaly. Seeing movies like “Get Out” and “Girls Trip” do so well in the last several months, I hope that Hollywood will recognize the importance of telling Black stories to their bottom line, and not go back to practices like casting White people in Asian roles, or setting movies in Egypt with all White people.
Juliana "Jewels" Smith
Oakland-based educator and author of "(H)afrocentric," a comic series that tackles race, gentrification, class, gender and sexuality through the eyes of four millennial college students of color.
What was your first connection with the Black Panther character?
I didn’t grow up as a comic book head, but years ago, when I started writing “(H)afrocentric,” I looked toward the BET series, “Black Panther." It gets a lot of flack, because the production value is really low, but I love the story.
What do you find most interesting about his story?
The thing I find most interesting is the ability to tell a story about a moment in African history where an African country wasn’t colonized. You have this technologically advanced country completely untouched by European colonization. That’s a fantasy a lot of us have had. That kind of resistance drew me—even though, of course, it was originally created by two Jewish men [Stan Lee and Jack Kirby].
What are your biggest hopes for the film?
I hope that this film makes a really clear case for all Black characters and leads. The fact that this film is most likely going to sell well shows that there’s clearly a viable market for this kind of film. There’s a resistance in telling stories that cut out hundreds of years of Black trauma. I really want to be able to tell more stories like that. It’s less about wanting to see more Black folks doing superhero movies. Instead, I just want there to be so much diversity in Blackness that we don’t have to beg to be in any genre.
Jesse J. Holland
Associated Press’ race, ethnicity and demographics reporter. Author of “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?," a novel adaptation of the Marvel character in the modern era. Creative nonfiction instructor at Goucher College.
How did you come to collaborate with Marvel on the Black Panther novel?
After I wrote my first non-fiction book in 2016, an editor at Lucas Films asked me to write the history of one of their new [Star Wars] characters, Finn. After that was released, Marvel contacted me and said they had this character with a movie coming out in a couple of years and wanted a book that would reintroduce him to the literary crowd. The great thing is that, when Marvel approached me to do this novel, they offered to send me Black Panther comic books as reference. And I was able to say, “You know what, I don’t need them because I bought them the first time around.” I was able to apply that childhood enthusiasm to a project I was doing as an adult.
What was your first connection with the Black Panther character?
It goes back to when my dad started me on comic books when I was around 5 or 6. I was a huge Avengers fan, and Black Panther was a supporting character there. I’ve been following Black Panther ever since. Even as a small child, I wanted to see characters who looked like me. There were only a few in mainstream comics. You had the Falcon, Luke Cage, John Stewart over in “Green Lantern,” and Black Panther, who was probably the most prominent of those characters for a very long time. Unlike the Falcon, Black Panther wasn’t anybody’s sidekick. And Luke Cage was a walking stereotype back then, but Black Panther wasn’t that. He was a regal, powerful, smart, rich Black man, who was also a king and a superhero. He was everything a child wanted to be.