The arrival of "Black Panther" in theaters across the country next week has a significant meaning for many Black people. It's more than just another comic book film, but soars "into our technological future while honoring history and tradition," prolific author and educator Tananarive Due tweeted.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, the film stars Chadwick Boseman stars as T'Challa, the titular hero and king of fictional African nation Wakanda, and features co-stars including Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett. It's a big-budget film produced by Marvel Studios (a division of The Walt Disney Company, No. 36 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) that's breaking Marvel pre-release ticket sale records, according to Fandango.
The film is not about the 1960s Black Panther political liberation movement. The storyline is about a technologically advanced African nation, which chooses to be isolated from the rest of the world. T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to succeed the throne. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T'Challa's mettle as king — and Black Panther — is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk.
"The excitement around 'Black Panther' shows that there's a real hunger in our community for authentic, empowering Black stories," Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, told DiversityInc.
The Black superhero story was celebrated on Tuesday with #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe, which trended on Twitter.
Due is a former department chair at Spelman College who taught screenwriting, creative writing and journalism. She tweeted:
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe Breaking free of the "comfortable" tropes of sidekicks and sacrifices, soaring into our technological future while honoring history & tradition. Seeing myself and my children's destiny reflected in the empowering mirror of #Afrofuturism. pic.twitter.com/pIqNYJl4KJ
— Tananarive Due (@TananariveDue) February 6, 2018
Twitter users also shared personal stories:
When I was younger, people didn't believe I was a nerd because I am a black woman. It was hard to find people like me on tv or in movies. I got really tired of people comparing me to Madea, but now this movie gives kids a chance to have their heroes! #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe pic.twitter.com/VrDL2YXTyT
— MD (@manika0098) February 6, 2018
Can you imagine being a little brown child and seeing Black Panther, only to find out that the creators look like you? That the director has the thickest Oakland accent ever? That the production was filled with black people? #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe pic.twitter.com/b3f6dNYKz0
— Wakandas Favorite DJ (@djbenhameen) February 6, 2018
Growing up I always wanted to be Batman because he smart and skilled but was told I'm not white. #BlackPanther gave me the qualities I liked in other heroes and then some. King - warrior -hero and someone who looked like me through my own lens. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe
— kambesyes - Wakandan thrower of hands (@kambesyes) February 6, 2018
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe Its more than just a movie, its an example of black excellence and how dope our people truly are. We deserve to finally get credited for influencing so many others (cough cough) and being proud of who we are 🙏🏿
— LayyLayy (@luvvvLay) February 6, 2018
In the wake of President Donald Trump's reported vulgar comments about African nations during an immigration meeting in January, the hashtag, which celebrates a film inspired by Africa, also brought out haters.
A movie. Not your diversity propaganda outlet. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe
— MAGA Bot (@SnoflakeMelter) February 6, 2018
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe If Blacks all immigrated back to Africa, free of the institutional racism of White nations, they could have a high tech, glorious civilization!
— Billy Roper (@soldierofyah) February 6, 2018
You mean the opportunity for me to spend my money on a movie so at awards show the actors/actresses can tell me about my white privilege and racism? No thanks.
— Dr. Phillip McCauchiner (@mccauchiner) February 6, 2018
There have been past movies featuring Black superheroes, but as the executive director of Color Of Change explained, "Time and time again, we've seen our narratives co-opted and exploited by non-Black writers and producers who perpetuate harmful stereotypes and fail to represent the vast range of the Black experience."
"Something like Marvel has a way of really affecting popular culture, and to have that popular culture informed with things that are of African origin and people knowing they are of African origin ... is powerful," said Lupita Nyong'o.
"With the buzz around 'Black Panther,'" Robinson told DiversityInc, "and the incredible success of films like 'Get Out,' it's undeniable that audiences want more stories by and about Black communities."
According to UCLA's 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report, films with relatively diverse casts have the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment. Color Of Change, a racial justice organization, has long been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera.
"Hollywood needs to give Black people more opportunities to tell our own stories and that requires action at every level of the industry," Robinson said.
"Black Panther" opens nationwide on Feb. 16. When a group of students at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta found out they were all going to see the film, they began to dance. The video has gone viral.