Black Panther, Science Fiction and the issue of representation

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe undoubtedly controls a large portion of the Box Office, we are usually forced to keep up with the movie releases of Tony Stark and his associates at least twice a year for several years now. However, the latest instalment in the Marvel saga, Black Panther, stands out amongst the 18 movies released so far for how it has resonated with people across the world. Apart from the regular marvel heads (myself included), Black Panther has been celebrated by audiences around the world for its embrace of diversity and representation. Even with the traditional superhero backstory of the loss of a parent, the movie has a continuous social commentary which makes it stand out as a fresh perspective on a worn-out format.

Highly acclaimed for its majority black cast and positive representation of the African continent, a big part of what makes Black Panther important is its incorporation of Black People’s history and culture in a science fiction film. Ideas of the future in TV and film are most often viewed through a white lens, with white actors almost always playing the protagonist. This is evident when going through the list of top grossing films of the genres, only 13% of the top 100 grossing Sci-fi and Fantasy films features a protagonist of colour (Will Smith being said person 7 times, in the Men In Black trilogy, I am Legend, Hancock, Independence Day, Suicide Squad). Meanwhile, black culture has made stamps on the mainstream, pioneering many modern western genres of music and growing its influence in other arts. The lack of representation in sci-fi movies is simply not a reflection of reality and shows that whitewashing isn’t just done to historical stories and events but also futuristic imaginations.

Black Panther also brings into the spotlight Afrofuturism, the philosophy that draws on sci-fi, fantasy and Afrocentrism to explore the intersection of African/African-American culture with technology. Afrofuturism serves to critique the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine historical events. This cultural aesthetic has been explored since the 1950s and with a recent resurgence, Black Panther overtly explores the African American experience with the story of Killmonger. Wakanda’s success is also attributed to the fact that it is an unconquered, uncolonised African nation. Something that can only be said for present-day Ethiopia, continuing to question historical events and explore fictional alternatives. Ultimately, Afrofuturism is about envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.

There has been more positive change in recent years as there are more high budget movies being made with protagonists of colour, however, this is not due to any sort of epiphany from Hollywood execs, it has simply had its false beliefs and paradigms that movies starring black and minority leads cannot attract as many moviegoers as their counterparts. A belief which should have already been extinct thanks to movies such as Blade, The Matrix Reloaded and the Fast and Furious franchise. It seems like Hollywood took some time to get the message but ultimately money talks and the record-breaking success of Black Panther only serves to push this further. Black Panther unapologetically celebrates African culture, black actors and a new point of view for Hollywood.

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