We’re halfway through 2017, which means it’s time for Marvel and DC Comics to start teasing us with what they’ve got lined up for the next year. For Marvel Studios, this comes in the form of the teaser for what might be their most anticipated movie in years: Black Panther.
Not only does Black Panther boast an enviable list of talent (Chadwick Boseman, Angela Basset, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B Jordan), but it also tells the story of a black superhero, the first in the Marvel cinematic universe. Black Panther also happens to be helmed by Marvel’s first African American director, Ryan Coogler, whose previous credits include Fruitvale Station and the Rocky reboot Creed, both of which starred Jordan. The movie will be released on February 16, 2018.
Black Panther is set in the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, a mysterious realm where technology and tradition have merged to build a veritable paradise. In the spirit of Marvel’s much vaunted love of continuity, both the hero and his kingdom have been introduced to viewers in Captain America: Civil War (2016). The latter not only showed us a glimpse of Wakanda in the post-credits scene, but also provided a lengthy encounter with its king and defender, T’Challa, the alter ego of Black Panther. Played by Boseman, T’Challa’s gravitas and air of tragedy, coupled with his obvious martial skills, immediately earned him a legion of fans.
Black Panther takes place shortly after the events of Civil War. T’Challa, who lost his father to a terrorist attack in Civil War, is reluctantly learning the lessons of what it takes to be king. When he returns from his tragic trip to the US, he is confronted with every ruler’s nightmare: factions within Wakanda seek to challenge his power, at the same time that outside forces begin their aggressive probes into the country. Wakanda is rich in natural resources – the fictional metal Vibranium, which was used to make Captain America’s shield. Vibranium is the source of much of Wakanda’s wealth and technological development; it is also what makes it of such interest to international groups, not all of whom have good intentions.
T’Challa is the first black superhero in mainstream comics, making his debut in 1966. He stands apart from later creations Falcon and Luke Cage (both of whom have already made their screen debuts, the former in a Netflix series and the latter as part of Captain America’s team in Winter Soldier). T’Challa is not American. He represents, through his position as leader of an advanced African nation, the idea of what could have been, an Africa untouched by the horrors of conquest and colonialism, pillage and slavery.
Wakanda, despite being fictional, is a powerful metaphor for a better world and a cleaner history than the one we are familiar with. As a superhero, therefore, T’Challa is more than just his muscles and quick reflexes: he is a symbol of African, not just African American, pride, and brings to life a sense of glory and perfection that is rarely accorded to depictions of Africa even today.
Marvel’s well-considered decision to place T’Challa’s storyline in the hands of an African American director, therefore, is especially important. Coogler has commented in an interview that Black Panther is his “most personal movie” yet. The star cast, which reads like a who’s who of black actors in Hollywood, has also been vocal about the importance of the hero in a world where #BlackLivesMatter has come to the forefront of news cycles, and old divisions seem eager to rise again.
T’Challa’s political weight has been underlined constantly, recently by the Black Panther comics written by american journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Though the spin-off comic was cancelled after only two issues, the fact that Coates, a noted thinker and activist, would be asked to write a superhero shows not only the power of the comic as a vehicle of thought, but also the heft and importance of this particular character, one who’s long been seen as a symbol of black dignity and power.
With all this riding on Black Panther, it’s no wonder fans are eagerly waiting for 2018. The king of Wakanda has a huge weight on his shoulders, but odds are Boseman, Coogler, and the rest of the crew will not disappoint. If the trailer is any indication, they’re more than ready for the challenge.
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