There is a lot of talk going on about the upcoming Black Panther movie, which to all indicators is going to be a huge hit. But aside from the obviously racist nay-sayers (and seriously, fuck those guys) there is this weird “mansplany” / “not ALL men” undercurrent going on that focuses a very basic fact:
Black Panther is the first black superhero in a major motion picture.
Now, to curtail any future confusion, let’s look at the sentence this way:
Black Panther is the first black superHERO in a major motion picture.
Yes, we have had other black leading men and more than a few super-powered men of color in leading movies. But what we are all excited about, what all the hype is about, is that there is finally a black “Superman”: someone who is a fully fledged AAA hero who can stand alongside the big boys (and, dare I say it, even LEAD the Avengers as the MCU moves into its next phase).
The Usual Suspects
These guys are always brought up whenever someone says Black Panther is ‘groundbreaking’, or ‘the first of its kind’, or an ‘important milestone’.
Blade – vampire anti-hero. Very badass, and jump-started the idea of a viable big budget comic book movie for many folks. But still, a gore-drenched day-walker dealing with the underworld.
Spawn – another anti-hero and a straight-up murderer. Plus, with his constant mask and Hell scarred face, I bet not many people even know he’s black.
Hitchcock – drunk asshole. Yes, he eventually redeems himself in act 3, but he’s hardly the superhero you want your kid dressing up for Halloween.
Luke Cage – I’d argue this is the closest comparison, but he’s still regulated to TV. While I feel a feature-length Luke Cage movie could do well, perhaps the powers that be feel he isn’t flashy enough to anchor a major franchise.
Steel – Shaq? Are you kidding me?
Meteor Man – Please, just stop.
Django – Independence Day – Book of Eli – etc. – NOT superhero movies. We aren’t saying Black Panther is the first movie to star a black man.
So why is Black Panther a big deal?
People are excited to have a hero on par with Superman, Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and other first-string heroes. If you want a moral compass, you’ve had Superman and Captain America to look up to. If you dig on rich guys with killer tech, you have Iron-Man and Batman. And with Black Panther, we have ALL of those things. An insanely wealthy and powerful leader who is super smart, has amazing tech, and is (in the words of Dr. Erskine from Captain America) “A good man.”
What Does Black Panther Mean To Me
“What do you care? You’re just some pudgy, white nerd.” Yeah, I’ve heard that once or twice when posting about my excitement. But I don’t think I’ve been as excited for a Marvel movie since Captain America: The First Avenger.
I’ve always loved the “everyman” or “enhanced” heroes. People at peak physical condition, or with a little boost (super soldier serum, heart-shaped herb, etc.) Captain America is my all time, absolute favorite superhero. His friendship and adventures with Falcon (another everyman … who flies) were favorites of mine. Black Panther comics were part of my comic book collection since the 70s. Aside from his own title, it was always awesome to see him alongside the Fantastic Four, or the Avengers. With more modern tales by writers like Priest, Hudlin, and Coates he’s been given a really rich backstory and more character depth.
I especially enjoyed a 2010 two-volume set called Black Panther/Captain America: Flags of Our Fathers. Written by Reginald Hudlin, with art by Cowan and Janson, the story covers a time when Captain America fought side by side with a previous Black Panther (Azzuri, T’Challa’s grandfather) against Nazi aggression against Wakanda during WW2.
Why am I excited for a Black Panther movie?’ I’m excited that more people will be exposed to the absolute ass-kicking awesomeness that is Black Panther. Just how I was excited to see so many people, from longtime fans to complete neophytes, embrace my childhood hero once they saw Captain America on the big screen.
In these turbulent times, I think we all need more real heroes we can look up to and Black Panther is a true hero of the highest order: and that’s pretty important.