Over the past year, we have seen a number of cases in which blacks have been mistreated and killed by police officers: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the McKinney, TX incident, and most recently the terrorist attack on Emannuel AME Church by Dylann Roof. Naturally, these events have stirred up feelings of anger and tension, and usually when these event happen, people look to protest, pray, or escape. Comic book heroes have been one of those escapes for generations of children. The superheroes we love to read not only provide an entertaining distraction, but provide figures we can identify with. Be it the discrimination against the X-Men or identifying with the loss of family members that many comic book heroes (and villains) face, comics can serve as an amazing parallel to the real world and be a source of comfort, understanding, and even serve as inspiration for individuals to achieve goals they never thought possible. This leads me to Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther movie. I worry that Marvel might try to whitewash or diminish a character with a rich, non-American, non-Western history in order to sell more tickets or avoid the very tense racial nature that has gripped the nation in the past few years.
History of the Character
Though you might be tempted to think of the Black Panther Party when you hear “Black Panther”, Marvel’s hero actually predates the organization. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared back in 1966, and is recognized as the first mainstream black superhero. The Black Panther is actually a ceremonial title, given to the chieftain of the Panther Tribe, rulers of the most advanced nation on Marvel’s Earth: Wakanda. The Black Panther we will likely see is T’Challa.
Traditionally an isolationist nation, Wakanda developed independently of the rest of the world, and is ahead of it in many areas such as medicine and technological prowess. It is a great megalopolis and nation, and the only home to one of the most important metals in the Marvel Universe: Vibranium. You may know it as the metal that makes up Captain America’s shield.
T’Challa himself is quite the talented individual: proficient in strategy, politics, science (Ph.D in physics from Oxford), and tracking, he’s considered to be one of the smartest individuals in the Marvel Universe. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t have Reed Richards (blame Fox Media), T’Challa will likely join Bruce Banner and Tony Stark as the top three minds in the MCU. He also is physically gifted: the powers granted to the Black Panther give him strength on a similar level to Captain America, and he has trained in more disciplines such as gymnastics and martial arts disciplines from around the world. In a battle situation, he would likely be armed with vibranium claws and a spear that could cut through Iron Man’s armor.
How will we see Black Panther in the MCU?
Wakanda has been teased multiple times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ahead of the Black Panther film slated for release in 2018. You can briefly see it circled in the closing scenes of Iron Man 2. It was formally name-dropped in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when the team discovers that Ultron is currently on track to meet with Ulysses Klaue [Klaw in the comics] so that Ultron can build himself a new Vibranium body. While the ensuing battle does take place in Africa, it takes place in South Africa, so Wakanda has not yet been seen on-screen. It’s also been confirmed that Black Panther will be introduced in Captain America: Civil War, though in what capacity has not yet been disclosed.
I do have a prediction for how Black Panther will fit into the Phase Three timeline. T’Challa’s father (and the previous Panther) is T’Chaka. T’Chaka is killed by Ulysses Klaw when he sneaks into the country and tries to steal some vibranium. T’Challa then takes the throne in his father’s stead. This may have already happened by the time we encounter Black Panther in the film, as it would also explain how Klaue could have escaped Wakanda with all of the vibranium that he did: it came down to a final battle against him and T’Chaka, and Klaue won and escaped. The location of the stolen vibranium and attack on South Africa could be enough to get the Black Panther involved in world affairs as Wakanda starts to come to the forefront of political affairs.
But there’s far more to Black Panther than faithfully portraying an African nation as more advanced than the West and a black leader who is of equal intellect to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Due to its xenophobic tendencies, Wakanda frowns upon American/foreign involvement. This dynamic is made clear in the Netflix miniseries that came out on BET around 6 years ago. I highly highly recommend that you see it as soon as possible, and certainly before the movie comes out. It adapts the first volume of the Black Panther, and makes clear the type of nation that Wakanda is. The mini-series doesn’t pull as many punches as I think the movie may be forced to. In it, American politicians refer to Wakandans as savages and other stereotypical insults typically addressed to blacks/Africans, and I think that would resonate very well with many black Americans who have seen the tragedies and attacks that I referred to earlier. In addition to the language, there are many disembodied heads and violence and blood are present; the point of ‘we don’t like invaders’ is made very clear. Make no bones about it: many people in the US and around the world don’t like blacks and Africans simply because they’re black and Africans, and the movie should make negative viewpoint clear. Expose it, address it, and then prove it wrong by showing just how advanced and intelligent the Wakandans are. Are they perfect? No. But if there’s any semblance of the need for a ‘white savior’ in the movie, then I think the movie will be a failure. Instead, the movie should serve to uplift and provide hope to black individuals around the world.
Marvel and Diversity
Marvel has already done a fairly good job when it comes to racial diversity. Half-Black Half-Latino Miles Morales has become the new mainstream Spider-Man (even though the MCU decided to give us our third Peter Parker in 15 years rather than have a new hero take on the role). War Machine/Iron Patriot and Falcon are both black superheroes in the MCU that have seen multiple appearances, though they haven’t had their own films. I do think that Marvel has been a bit less fair to its female leads—Black Widow had essentially been carrying the torch by herself (and didn’t even have powers) until Scarlet Witch showed up in Age of Ultron. I certainly hope Marvel does better with gender diversity, and having read lots of Ms Marvel/Captain Marvel recently, I’m really looking forward to her movie in 2018 as well.
Ultimately, by the time the Black Panther movie comes out, the MCU will be a much different place than it is currently. There are many movies that will greatly change the MCU landscape between now and it’s tentative July 6, 2018 release date: Captain America: Civil War (featuring the Panther), Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, an unnamed Spidey film, and Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. This begs the question: Will the Panther be in the Avengers by Infinity War Part 1? It will be interesting to watch. Regardless, I hope that Chadwick Boseman represents T’Challa well in the MCU, for the sake of the character and for those of us at home who need a headlining black superhero to look up to.