Marvel’s superhero movies have always strived to represent the best of us. But while Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, and their colleagues have always exemplified ideals when it comes character, intellect, physical strength, etc., Marvel’s movie heroes so far haven’t represented the best of all of us.
The hard truth is that there have been 17 Marvel movies (including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel’s joint venture with Sony), and none of them have had a woman or person of color as the titular or central character. That will finally change with Black Panther, the first Marvel movie about a black superhero. (Marvel Studios didn’t own the rights to Blade until 2013.) And judging by the first reactions to film, which had its world premiere Monday night, it’s a milestone many fans are more than ready to see Marvel pass.
One of the most prominent reactions among those who saw the film — aside from how awesome the movie is — was the feeling that they were seeing themselves onscreen for the first time.
If you don’t understand the power of representation, imagine growing up never seeing a superhero who looks like you. When American Girl dolls came out I always picked Addy who had to escape slavery. But now kids have #BlackPanther’s Nakia, Shuri and Okoye. Dope on many levels.— Natasha Alford ✊ (@NatashaSAlford) January 30, 2018
Several viewers stressed that the movie showed how important and integral identity is to the human spirit:
BLACK PANTHER is incredible, kinetic, purposeful. A superhero movie about why representation & identity matters, and how tragic it is when those things are denied to people. The 1st MCU movie about something real; Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger had me weeping and he’s the VILLAIN— jen yamato (@jenyamato) January 30, 2018
Black Panther was STUNNING. The movie itself tackles a lot of different issues, including a complex villain and the moral struggles that come with being king.— Dani Fernandez (@msdanifernandez) January 30, 2018
And it truly showed the strength of black women THE ENTIRE TIME.#BlackPanther
Black Panther is a new high for Marvel on so many levels: the richest exploration of identity and strength and privilege, the deepest bench of complex women, and I think the MCU’s most tragic villain. The atmosphere in the screening room was so charged.— Emma Dibdin (@emmdib) January 30, 2018
In the comic books, T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, is king of a fictional African country called Wakanda. Within the Marvel universe, Wakanda is one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet (if not the most), one that has repelled every attempt at invasion — including intergalactic ones — from anyone silly enough to think they could defeat the Wakandan forces.
Pride, power, and grace are synonymous to Wakanda and its king. That’s a big part of what makes Black Panther so powerful, since these kinds of depictions of black identity — superheroes, royalty, geniuses, warriors who have never been colonized — have so rarely been seen in mainstream pop culture up to this point.
Seeing all the rave #BlackPanther reviews & realizing that as a kid I only had the occasional Dean Thomas & Storm cameos— Tomi Adeyemi (@tomi_adeyemi) January 30, 2018
Even under Trump, today’s kids are getting
- Black Panther
- A Wrinkle In Time
- Children of Blood and Bone
And we’re just getting started
When it comes to superhero movie first reactions, Black Panther’s included, they all tend to shout the same chorus: that it’s the best superhero movie ever. But in Black Panther’s case, there’s something deeper happening in how it’s inspired these sorts of reflections on the power of representation. It may be a good movie, but more importantly, it may also be a movie that changes the game.
Black Panther hits theaters on February 16, 2018.