Reinventing Black Cinema With Black Panther

Reinventing Black Cinema With Black Panther

As someone of mixed race heritage, a desire to view someone who looks like me play a superhero on screen is something I’ve always yearned for but never seen. After decades of trying to imagine what a superhero of colour may look like, I may finally be getting what the world has been waiting for with the release of Black Panther in cinemas this week. Now, this hasn’t come without a lot of trials and tribulations along the way… But will one movie really change the way black culture is represented in cinema and on our screens for good?

This journey has been a long one, and it’s nowhere near over. In the 1970’s we saw the release of Blaxploitation films which gave whole new audiences their own idols; from Foxy Brown to Cleopatra Jones, to Shaft and Coffy. These black heroes were relatable and awe-inspiring and we quickly fell in love with their sex appeal and swagger, embracing this diversity and representation of a different culture showed that there was clearly a need for it – and that it matters. Being able to relate to characters on screen is not just integral for us to feel seen and understood, but for others to be able to see us and understand the diversity within us.

The entertainment industry is currently undergoing a massive overhaul, and is grappling with its behavior towards women and people of colour especially. Black Panther is ready to prove to Hollywood and beyond that African-American culture and plots have the ability to make money from all audiences, but the fact that it may come as a threat to some is not a surprise. At a time when the United States is arguably in the midst of a regressive political and cultural moment in time, Black Panther feels like an act of defiance. Warriors of both genders battle for control of an African kingdom, and the film follows Marvel’s first-ever black superhero as he fights longstanding enemies in order to take his due place as king of Wakanda.

The film’s director Ryan Coogler set out to make this movie inventive and influential, and he has succeeded. Where previous representations of black leads in film have fallen short, Black Panther signals a new era not only for black actors and actresses but people of all races having leading roles in cinema. It’s narrative confronts institutional favouritism as its characters challenge oppressors, and its story encompasses colourful views on black life and tradition.

Since the dawn of modern cinema, we’ve been treated to over thirty different recreations of the likes of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. With any luck the release of Black Panther will signify a new era for superhero movies, and how we imagine and see our modern-day heroes. Like anything that discusses colour in the 21st century, Black Panther will be debated as a hot topic. It’s a film that actually has something to say rather than avoiding complex themes of race and identity, and wrestles head-on with issues that may otherwise go under-the-radar. There’s never going to be a time when this movie wouldn’t be of importance to black people in particular, and the inescapable criticism it will endure for its belief in blackness. This feels like a turning point, with hope one where diversity is celebrated and showcased for good.

Written by J’Nae Phillips,

Contributor

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