Marvel’s superhero sensation Black Panther has thus far grossed almost $1.2 billion worldwide, and is the first film since James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) to top the box office for 5 weeks straight. The film focuses on Wakanda, a fictional African state whose unique natural resources have allowed them to hide away from the outside world, avoiding the impact of colonialism and developing technology superior to that of any other nation. It has been widely praised for its diverse casting and its representation of black women in particular, in an industry dominated by white actors and white stories.
However, despite its commercial success, many have taken issue with the politics and message of the film, deeming it too conservative. The film’s main villain, Erik Killmonger, is a bloodthirsty but idealistic revolutionary who wants to lead Wakanda in a war against the West, using their technology to crush oppressive powers and help black people across the globe. He is eventually defeated by the Black Panther, who rejects Killmonger’s vision in favour of a less radical approach. Critics of the film have expressed disappointment at its lukewarm message which seems to vilify active resistance to oppression—a particularly relevant issue given the media focus on police brutality since the Ferguson protests in 2014. Others have argued that a Hollywood blockbuster cannot be expected to advocate radical politics, and that too much criticism of Black Panther may dissuade producers from making black-centred films in the future.
English Literature students or those interested in film may wish to consider the impact of fiction on political and social views, and whether writers have a moral responsibility towards their audience. Applicants for History should think about what Black Panther has to say about African history, colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade, revolution, and the history of race relations in the United States, with reference to the real-life Black Panther Party of the 60s and 70s.