One of the most hotly anticipated films of 2018 is Marvel’s Black Panther. One of the most exciting parts about this sure-to-be blockbuster is its focus on Africa. The groundbreaking film is the first major Marvel franchise fully set in Africa. You might even say that Africa and her rich, beautiful culture are a character in the film.
Director Ryan Coogler never had the chance to visit Africa while growing up, despite understanding how important it was to his heritage. “It was almost like a mythical place to us—to a lot of us, as African Americans, Coogler told Empire magazine. Before directing the film, Coogler knew it was important for him to become immersed the continent and its culture. He went so far as to say that he “wasn’t qualified to do it just because I look like this.”
Coogler recognized that Africa and Africans are all too often misrepresented, if they are represented at all. Before agreeing to direct, he knew he had to spend time there. Despite his guiding principle and goal to give Africa and Africans a fair and respectful look in the film, not everyone has agreed that he has met his goal. Based only on the trailer, some are claiming that the film appropriates African culture rather than celebrates it.
In addition to showcasing Africa, one of the most exciting parts about the film is how it showcases so much black talent. Although there are a few big white roles, the overwhelming majority (90%) of the cast is black. One of the film’s actors, Bambadjan Bamba, told the BBC that growing up, “Being African was not cool.” This film may help change that perception. Bambadjan recently came out as undocumented. His parents fled Cote D’Ivoire for the Bronx in 1993. Bambadjan is a DACA recipient and he came out about his status in light of the uncertainty surrounding the program.
Black Panther hits theaters on February 16, 2018. It will almost certainly prove once again that films with diverse casts make more money. It will also hopefully help young people with African heritage to feel proud to see themselves onscreen. It will be a chance to look at strong, admirable black characters and the deep and complex beauty and creativity of a meaningful place.