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Wednesday January 19th

Black Panther is a national phenomenon that also hits surprisingly close to home

Black Panther, a recent blockbuster hit, is now showing at the Varsity movie theater on Franklin Street.
Buy Photos Black Panther, a recent blockbuster hit, is now showing at the Varsity movie theater on Franklin Street.

Marvel’s "Black Panther" is, in its simplest form, a phenomenon. 

What began as a superhero movie morphed into a cultural sensation, dominating social media for weeks. Black children flocked to midnight premieres wearing traditional African garb and “Black Panther” costumes. The movie has been critically acclaimed by publications and audiences. 

Although most conversations about “Black Panther” involve the importance of representation in Hollywood, many on campus extend the conversation to something further: a love letter to Black culture.

“It’s brought people together on this one shared identity of being Black,” said sophomore Whitney Kouaho, who was born in the Ivory Coast. "There’s something for everyone in that movie. The energy that’s shown in the movie is new, so it’s exciting.”

Black Panther has the plot of most Marvel movies. T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, is the young, selfless ruler of Wakanda, a fictional African country that hides its possession of Vibranium, an indestructible metal, from the world. The villain, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, wants to exploit Vibranium to help the African diaspora rise-up against oppressors.

“The event of the movie’s release transcends anything the movie could be,” said David Pier, an African, African-American and Diaspora Studies associate professor. “It isn’t just the film, it’s the way people went to see the film and dressed up. The movie was an event as much as it was a movie.”

Pier viewed the movie with different expectations. The Sonja Haynes Stone Center had a panel analyzing “Black Panther,” and Pier knew he was going to present about the soundtrack.

Pier found that there were three different musical styles in the film: African music, which is associated with Wakanda, hip-hop and R&B, which is associated with Killmonger, and neo-romantic orchestral music, which is found in most superhero movies.

But Pier wishes there were more contemporary African bands featured, as using traditional music in Wakanda scenes may perpetuate the stereotype that Africa is a primordial place.

“(It shows that) the present is in America, and past is in Africa,” Pier said.

Kouaho sees it differently.

“There’s a scene where you see a motorcade going through a crowd. That’s how it is in African countries,” Kouaho said.

To Kouaho, the film is a blend of different African cultures and identity and encourages Black viewers to be unapologetic of their heritage.

“They drew from a lot of places on the continent,” Kouaho said. “They drew a lot from South Africa ... The clothing they wore, and the scarification on Jordan’s body was drawn from parts of the continent into one beautiful blend of Africanness.”

Charlene Regester, who teaches classes on African-American cinema, has only seen “Black Panther” once for pure enjoyment, but said it was one of the most representative films of the diaspora she had seen.

“There are actors from England, Africa, United States, West Indies,” Regester said. “The film represented a range of Blacks across the world, many of these people emanated from the diaspora.”

Also, unlike many movies in America that highlight the African and African-American experience, Regester said “Black Panther” avoided many disparaging stereotypes.

“The view of Black criminals, being hyper-sexualized and Black matriarchal figures are less apparent,” Regester said.

Despite the controversy on the lasting impacts in Hollywood, “Black Panther” has made its mark, especially on young people.

“(‘Black Panther’)  is a big homage to African culture and what it means to be Black,” Kouaho said. “It’s a celebration."


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