After years spent as sidekicks, the black superhero’s time has finally arrived in the form of Black Panther.
King T’Challa, the clawed catsuit-wearing crimefighter played by Chadwick Boseman, calls upon his team of mighty warriors, scientists and superspies (and those are just the women) to protect the wealth and technology of the fictional Wakanda.
Marvel’s latest blockbuster is their “wokest” film yet – unafraid to tackle racism, colonialism and slavery against an afro-centric futurist utopian backdrop.
The movie illustrates a fantasy world where white colonialists did not land in Africa and black people have reached new levels of technological advancement, boasting reserves of the strongest metal known to man.
The release follows box office success Get Out and Girls Trip, films that proved black cinema with black themes and black stars can be successful.
White people are given endless screen versions of themselves in the media – representation just isn’t something they have to think about. Whiteness is the cultural norm and any diversion from that, read black people, are ghettoised or marketed as niche entertainment.
There was Blade, the 1998 black vampire superhero, played by Wesley Snipes and the 2008 superhero action comedy Hancock starring Will Smith. They were anti-heroes: Blade was a half-vampire struggling to overcome his bloodlust and Hancock was an alcoholic “reformed” by Jason Bateman, his “white saviour”. Other fantasy characters like Nick Fury, War Machine, Falcon and Storm were great to see, but their storylines functioned in the service of the leading white man.
In Black Panther, black people are represented with an empowering narrative which breaks stereotypes and changes perspectives. For those of us who have struggled to find multi-faceted representations of ourselves, this is it. The dark-skinned female superhero finally looks like me, my sister, my mother, my friends. Female suffering is not used as a narrative device – instead women are the best spies Wakanda has to offer, fearless warriors and scientific genius responsible for the nation’s technological advancements.
However, as Kwame Ture said, “black visibility is not black power”. Black people still face high incarceration rates, police brutality, inadequate education, lower incomes, high levels of unemployment, and live in deprived neighbourhoods characterised as “ghettos”. In the UK, black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. All the while Prime Minister Theresa May pledges to create a “hostile environment” for migrants. Even with the discovery of Cheddar Man, I am scrutinised continuously for my blackness — whether that’s my hair, skin or speech.
What we need to understand is that just because the industry is beginning to portray black people on the big screen, doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done – black people are still experiencing institutional racism. We need our own superhero strength to take it on.
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