Wakanda Forever: The “Black Panther” Effect

Don't underestimate the off-screen impact of representation

Dewayne Goforth, Staff Writer

Over the weekend Black Panther crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, smashing countless box office records and cultural milestones along the way. Though it’s impact on the big screen can clearly be seen through the numbers it continues to produce, what cannot easily be seen is its cultural significance, specifically in African and African American communities around the world.

The film’s screenplay, costume design, direction, production merits and soundtrack were mostly  designed and curated by professionals of African decent, making this movie more than just another addition to the Marvel universe, but a turning point in the history of a people who have been consistently overlooked and underrepresented in mainstream media.

The first time I saw a black superhero on the big screen was in the movie Blade, starring Wesley Snipes as the vampire slaying lead character. Words can’t explain how empowered I felt after seeing someone of the same color as me in a position to save the world. On-screen representation is important because it enriches our lives, builds self-esteem, and gives us a way to escape our daily routines.

Black Panther was Marvel’s first predominantly black film and it depicted Africa as a country rich with minerals and its citizens as descendants of kings and queens. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who was also the director of photography for Ryan Coogler’s 2013 drama, Fruitvale Station, captured the beauty and elegance of Africa in a way that felt like a breath of fresh air.

On-screen representation is something that minorities have struggled for years to obtain. But mixed within the struggle for representation is the additional challenge for minorities to be portrayed in a more positive light. It can be very damaging growing up in a world that consistently cast members of your race as second class citizens with no power, no running water and little to no food to eat.

Afrocentric clothing and natural hair were prevalent throughout the film and it has left a lasting effect on it’s audience. I’ve seen a large increase in African attire over the last few weeks following the films release as African Americans have been inspired to reconnect to their roots. It’s amazing to see how fast attitudes have changed towards dashikis, boubous, head wraps and other African fabrics, which only attest to the power of positive representation.

These are just some of the many reason why Black Panther was so significant. Not only did it challenge institutional biases and stereotypes, but it also managed to reconnect African Americans to Africa, and that’s something worth going to theaters for.

Films like these make me wonder sometimes whether or not the lack of minorities in mainstream media is a deliberate act or not. The very existence of Black Panther, from it’s all black cast down to its title, feels like a resistance to whatever system Hollywood has been operating on for all these years. Finally we are presented with a film that shows the perspective of black life and tradition in a positive light.