Black Panther is expected to be a major box office smash, but it has also taken on the mantle of cultural talisman, a touchstone on which moviegoers of colour worldwide are pinning their hopes.
The 18th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opening today in the United States and South Africa, features an almost entirely black cast led by Chadwick Boseman as the first non-white superhero to get his own standalone movie in the lucrative franchise.
The film from Disney-owned Marvel Studios is expected to break opening weekend box office records and has spawned headlines and social media buzz worldwide about its significance as a game-changer for racial representation in cinema.
“We put our heart and soul into it because we knew it was a great opportunity,” Boseman, 41, said during a Twitter Q&A on Monday.
“But to see how people have responded to it when they haven’t even seen the movie yet, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s crazy.”
Boseman plays the titular superhero in Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, king and protector of the technologically advanced fictional African nation of Wakanda.
His star-studded support cast is made up of African Americans Michael B Jordan, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, English actors Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright – Kaluuya is of Ugandan heritage while Wright grew up in Guyana – and Kenyan-Mexican Lupita Nyong’o.
With two Oscar winners (Nyong’o and Whitaker) and two nominees (Kaluuya and Bassett), as well as a hatful of Golden Globes nods, the super-cast features some of the most accomplished black actors working in cinema today.
Wakanda, almost a character in itself, subverts the stereotype of Africa as victim by positing an affluent, resource-rich, never-colonised utopia doing its own soul-searching over taking in refugees from poorer nations.
“What this movie represents ...is a story and point of view that is universal in its appeal yet very grounded in African American culture,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore.
“Its universal themes will allow it to become a worldwide phenomenon, while at the same time representing a really important moment in film, breaking down barriers and outmoded ideas about what is commercially viable.”
With five million posts, Black Panther is the most tweeted-about movie of the year so far. Experts are predicting a $150-million (R1.7-billion)-$165-million (R1.9-billion) opening which would challenge the $152-million (R1.7-billion) Presidents Day weekend record set by another Marvel Comics creation, Fox’s Deadpool (2016). Black Panther isn’t the first movie featuring non-white superheroes – around 30 ethnic characters have donned lycra for big screen appearances since the early 1990s – but the Wakandan royal is the first black protagonist to land his own movie in the MCU.
“When Ryan and Hannah Beachler, our production designer, came on, they really made it their mission to go to real African sources for inspiration for the costumes and designs of the structures, and even how the city is laid out,” said African American executive producer Nate Moore.
“All that care helped make it real for all of us.”
Various analysts interviewed said they expect the film to do for ethnic diversity what last summer’s Warner Bros smash hit Wonder Woman did for women – which was to persuade executives that blockbusters don’t need white male leads to sell tickets. — AFP