The year was 1998 when Marvel began its first endeavor in bringing a black hero to the big screen. Blade was successful enough to warrant an entire trilogy, but it is only sorely remembered by most today. 

Though the audience was given Falcon and War Machine in The Avengers and Iron Man as other black heroes, along with a black Human Torch in the 2015 Fantastic Four, it took 20 years for Marvel to give the starring role to a black superhero. The largest difference between Blade and Marvel’s newest movie is that Black Panther will have a predominantly black cast.

The appearance T’Challa, better known as Black Panther, made in Captain America: Civil War gave Marvel fans everywhere enough of a preview of his capabilities to excite everyone for his stand-alone movie.

Given that Black Panther is Marvel's first African hero, it would be foolish to overlook his cultural significance. There seems to be a more interesting issue at hand with the catlike crusader from the fictional nation of Wakanda. In a universe predominantly focused on white American heroes, which is popular among a predominantly white audience, white fans should be excited but remember the messages in the film, Jasmyn Pearl, president of the Black Student Union, said.

The director himself, Ryan Coogler, has been quoted stating Black Panther is attempting to ask and answer the question: "What does it truly mean to be African?" When considering the current political climate, with racial tensions high and certain members of the alt-right looking to sabotage the movie, the question must be asked: Are white fans expected to treat Black Panther with an extra pinch of cultural sensitivity?

“When Iron Man came out, there weren’t a whole lot of discussions about ‘This is a white film geared towards white audiences,’ and there weren’t these same kinds of concerns when Thor came out,” Akil Houston, an associate professor of African American studies, said. “I think it’s a real interesting commentary on race that when you do have a film with an overwhelmingly black cast, and it sort of marks it as a black film.”

The world doesn’t suddenly become multicultural because of the movie. It’s always been that way, Houston said.

“But I think this film will probably be one of those magical moments where you get all these people going to see it. And I think for a lot of African-American audiences, it’s been a long time coming,” Houston said.

Realistically, it is a movie and, more specifically, a hero for black audiences to relate to. That isn’t to say that it can’t be enjoyed by everyone. It is important, however, that white fans be informed on the message that the movie is attempting to convey, Pearl said.

“It’s more than just another superhero movie. So pay attention to the themes, pay attention to what the characters are saying, how they respond to different things, what issues are brought up in the movie,” Pearl said. “Art is created to make people feel things. So if all you feel is excited because it’s an action-packed movie, you’re missing the point.”

When stepping into the world of Wakanda, it could potentially be difficult for white audiences to relate and understand to the struggles that play a role in the movie. It seems the best thing that can be done to understand is simply to ask, Pearl said.

“Now if it’s something that (you) want to learn more about, then ask a question and find someone you can trust to ask those questions to so you get a true answer,” Pearl said. “That might be a quote from the movie or a GIF. I’m not saying you have call up your one black friend or whatever and say ‘What was this about?’”

That isn’t to say that white people need to place the need for education solely on others, though. It shouldn’t be solely up to black friends of white fans. There are certain things that could be discovered through a simple Google search, Pearl said.

There didn’t seem to be a large concern about white audiences writing fan fiction or using the characters for other activities common in fandoms. The largest concern appears to be cosplay, in which people dress up as fictional characters.

“The thing I’m most worried about, like, in terms of re-appropriating Black Panther in terms of the fandom is cosplay,” Fox Alexander, a senior studying English literature, said.

Alexander said that what would certainly cross the line in cosplay would be any type of black face. Wearing a Black Panther costume is more acceptable, though.

Overall, it seems fans of all races are excited to see the newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is hope that maybe, with the predicted success of Black Panther, there will be a diverse cast in Marvel for future movies.

“I’m really glad that people seem to think it’s good,” Alexander said. “I’m really glad that people are geared up for it. I hope it creates a pattern, and these types of movies are increased.” 


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