‘Black Panther’ set to bring inclusion to Hollywood

Christine Gendy
Opinion Staff Writer
cgendy@unca.edu

The release of Black Panther proves to be a major turning point in mainstream Hollywood for on-screen racial inclusion.

Released on Feb. 15, the film celebrated an opening weekend total of $426 million worldwide. According to Forbes Magazine, it topped the box office numbers of several of Marvel’s more recent films, including Doctor Strange and Ant-Man.

The largest club on campus, Underdog Productions, took 120 students to see the film premiere in a rented-out showroom at the Grail Moviehouse. This event was organized by the executive director of movies and films for Underdog Productions, Lila Welsh.

“I am hopeful that this turnout and the response would mean that more movies like this would occur. Representation is important and hopefully the success of Black Panther shows this to those who make movies,” Welsh said.

The cast sets this movie apart from any other superhero movie you may have seen. This will be the first Marvel film to grace the big-screen with a majority black cast. There are only two white actors in the film and they serve as secondary characters. This is an important shift because in typical Hollywood, when a film wants to be inclusive, they will usually have a person of color as the sidekick to the main white protagonist. You cannot claim inclusion when the race or sexual orientation you are trying to include does nothing instrumental in advancing the plot.

A poster for the film Black Panther. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

When people flock to the cinema, they generally hope to see characters and plots they can relate to. In cinematic history, if an African-American went to the cinema to watch a film, they would find themselves reflected in the antagonist. According to researchers at Duke University, African-Americans historically take on roles in which they are portraying the negative stereotypes that plague them.

To see yourself portrayed in such a manner is not only initially demeaning, but can have a lasting impact on the way you view yourself in the long term. When you consider this, it makes it all the more inspiring to see a film like Black Panther do so well with audiences. The film’s success may be a testament to our culture shifting to a more inclusive attitude.

According to Jordi McKenzie, a contributor to Applied Economics Letters, a common misconception about films with predominantly African-American casts or films with an African-American as the main character is they tend to do worse at the box office. In reality, they make more money on average than their less-inclusive counterparts. Due to smaller budgets, they may seem as though they are making less money.

This goes to show how much internalized racism exists in Hollywood, let alone the U.S. as a whole. The excuse that a more inclusive film will not make as much money as a mostly white cast is a flat-out lie and just another reason Hollywood gives to turn these scripts down or give them less of a budget than a film they think will make more money.

After seeing Black Panther, many people have great things to say about it.

“First, I love Shuri. Second, I love the costumes! The colors and how each piece was similar but unique so you could tell each of the five tribes had their own culture, but were part of a larger community,” Welsh said.

Even the film critique website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 97 percent rating, one of the highest scores on the site. Comparably, the audience rating gave it a 77 percent approval rating. Although this is less than the rating given by actual film critics, well over half of viewers who cared to leave a rating enjoyed it.

Christopher Orr, film critic for The Atlantic, described Black Panther as the most thought-provoking movie Marvel has made to date by far. Thought-provoking is an excellent compliment for this movie to receive as a shift in the way people are thinking about this type of cinema is what the world needs to make change happen.  

When looking to the future at a cultural change in the U.S. toward the acceptance of oppressed groups, the release of a superhero movie might seem like a minor step. I think it is bigger than that. Every step we take toward inclusion and acceptance looks like a giant leap in the eyes of those who are marginalized. 

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