“Black Panther” Set To Make Movie History

Paul Comauex, Opinion Editor

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“Black Panther” photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. 

Every hero needs a villain. For Black Panther (at right), his villain is Killmonger.

 

What a great time to be a comic book fan.  

What a great time to be a black comic book fan.  

In the DC Extended Universe and in the Marvel Universe, black heroes have flown into the spotlight highlighting issues black people face in the real world.  

It’s about representation.   

At least, in fictional worlds, black heroes matter.   

Today, the Marvel Studios hero, “Black Panther” steps onto the big screen in theaters across America. Most showtimes for the next several days are sold out. Some estimates project “Black Panther” to earn nearly $170 million today and throughout its opening weekend. That’s more money than any comic book movie (“Spiderman,” “Superman,” “Batman”) has ever made in its debut. 

Of course, “Black Panther” opens in February, also known as Black History Month. Originally started in 1925 by historian Carter G. Woodson, “Negro History Week” began to help black children to recognize the real-life heroes, inventors and leaders, often overlooked within American history. The week expanded to a month. Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month. At a time when history can feel like homework, heroes have ceced the spotlight to superheroes.  

On the small screen, Black Lightning,” a TV show on the CW from DC, portrays a high school principal, who has a wife and two daughters, along with his power to shoot out electricity. “Black Lightning” made its TV debut, Jan. 16, the day after the national Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. 

It wasn’t that long ago when I started reading comics. 

Finding a black character as the leading character, let alone in the books themselves was hard. Growing up, there was one cartoon where the black character was the main character. That show was Static Shock. 

Static Shock ran from 2000-2004 on Kid’s WB.

Seeing Static Shock, allowed me to see a person who looked like me become a hero. Seeing a person who looked like me, made a different impact upon me than those other famous heroes. When you always see someone who looks like you in the background, it makes you feel like you’re an extra in someone’s else’s world.  

It’s about representation.   

While I grew up with a Jon Stewart-based Green Lantern, he’d always play second-class citizen to Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern, in terms of strength.  

But seeing Static Shock aka Virgil Hawkins on Kids WB every Saturday morning put a sense of confidence in me. It was, as if being amazing wasn’t beyond my reach. It said that there could be greatness inside of me. 

Photo courtesy of Time Magazine. 

 

Flash forward to 2018. Now, black superheroes are gaining attention. The fictional Black Panther is on the real life cover of Time magazine. And these superheroes are dealing with everyday problems.  

Photos courtesy of CW  © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Political undertones punctuate most episodes of “Black Lightning.” The main character Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning had an altercation with the police during its season premiere. The show gave its take on racial profiling in America before a full five minutes had passed in the episode. I’ve experienced a similar situation. According to Gallup poll research, so too have more than 4 out of 10 black men. My experience wasn’t as bad as what happened to Black Lightning in the DC Extended Universe or what happened to Philando Castile, Alton Sterling or Michael Brown in real life.

By day, Black Lightning, is Jefferson Pierce, a high school principal.

Black Panther is different from Black Lightning. They both represent strong black men, one African – Black Panther – and one African-American – Black Lightning. But it is clearly Black Panther who is becoming the cultural phenomenon. The cast, led by Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa aka Black Panther is majority black with a few exceptions. Both the director and writer are black. And the man who crafted the film’s soundtrack is Kendrick Lamar, who, yes, is black. 

Men aren’t the only warriors in the movie “Black Panther.”

This “Black Panther” moment is electric with a charge that’s a 1000 times as powerful as a Static Shock. To have young black children see themselves on royal thrones with the chance to become heroes, can be transformative. To see someone who looks like you to be the leading character in your own life story. This creates a capacity more powerful than the ability to fly high or the strength to flip an automobile. This is a moment which creates the mindset to dream.  

And isn’t that the point of Black History Month? To inspire us, to discover heroes who can help inspire us into the future.    

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