“Black Panther” Breaking Boundaries

By Sydney Spector

Climbing into the No. 9 spot as one of the top-grossing films of all time world wide, “Black Panther” has made over a billion dollars, going against the Hollywood stereotype that films with black actors don’t sell well in the general market. It has become the highest grossing film with a black director, replacing the previous holder “Straight Outta Compton.” The film also inspired the hashtag #WakandaForever. “Black Panther” is truly a force to be reckoned with.

English Department Chair and superhero comic book enthusiast, Fred Montas, saw the film and was genuinely surprised by it.

“I expected to like it, but I was surprised by how much it moved me,” Montas said. “The screenplay raised serious, fundamental questions about the African diaspora and the consequences of history, but it allowed for moments of quiet intimacy between its characters. The only superhero movies that rival it are ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘The Winter Soldier,’ which also struck that balance between exploring profound issues and letting characters interact closely. I think ‘Black Panther’ surpasses both of them.

He credits the success of  “Black Panther” to its two screenwriters Ryan Coogler, who is also the director, and Joe Robert Cole.

“‘Black Panther’ brings up the of issues of identity, empowerment and belonging, which have been important for many people for hundreds of years,” Montas said. “The movie also touches on the issue of ‘the responsibilities of the privileged to the less privileged.’”

Having a predominantly black cast of actors reinforced the script’s authenticity, though Montas still credits the success of the film to the strong script.

Though the film takes place in the fictional country of Wakanda, the film’s authenticity is enhanced by its use of a real language, Xhosa, which is spoken primarily by the Southern Nguni of South Africa and is used by more South Africans than either English or Afrikaans. Having viewers hear a language spoken by millions people makes the movie a more authentic experience for all audiences.  

Although “Black Panther” isn’t the first film to raise questions of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, Hollywood has been resilient in maintaining its status quo.

“The first Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Birth of a Nation’ (1915) . . . celebrated the Ku Klux Klan and led to its revival and expansion beyond the south in the 1920s.” Montas said.  “Later, another early Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939) romanticized slavery and the Old South. But given [Hollywood’s] long history of resisting such change, I’m skeptical that anything will be different [as a result of ‘Black Panther’].”

Despite his doubt, Montas is still hopeful that this movie will help Native American, Asian-American and Latino actors to break into the industry going forward. He hopes “Black Panther” will open doors for a wider range of casting decisions, including having actors of a variety of backgrounds considered for roles that don’t specify any ethnicity.

“Black Panther” clawed its way to the number one movie at the box office, and leaves behind a cultural impact few anticipated. As people wonder how far its impact will spread beyond the box office, the hashtag #WakandaForever lives on.