What Disney & Marvel’s “Black Panther” Means for Marginalized Voices

If you’re a writer (or ANY creative talent from a marginalized community tbh), thank the creators and actors involved in this amazing film for blowing open a door that’s only had a small wedge in it for decades.

I personally have so many #FEELS after watching (and rewatching!) the film that seems destined to redefine the landscape of the “superhero origin story”. I wrote on social media that I had so many thoughts and reactions as a woman, a nerd, a person of color, as well as a black female nerd (because each of those realities has been a different experience growing up!). Each of one those consciouses is at war for dominance right now.

But the writer is winning.

Here’s why:

While television has been known, especially in recent years, to break the boundaries on marginalized voices: Hollywood is still notoriously #whitewashed and #maledominated. Those stories, those heroes (and villains) are still the loudest, most publicly recognized and most awarded on the big screen.

We’re all familiar now with the tropes of a blockbuster movie, so I won’t take the time to spell them out. Let’s just remember #OscarsSoWhite is still a relevant movement, not only due to institutionalized prejudice, but also to the belief that marginalized stories are only important to the communities telling them. Women go see chick flicks, nerds go see sci-fi, LGBTQ+ communities watch gender identity/”alternative” sexuality movies, etc.

Of course many of you (being the beautiful people that you are) are thinking, “Hey I watch movies with casts that don’t look or live the same way I do. And I know lots of popular movies like that.” But remember: popular does not always translate to lucrative.

We remember films we thought would break the barriers, but unfortunately, fell short at the box office:

Milk (2008) – $54.6 million, Birth of a Nation (2016) – $16.8 million, Fences (2016) – $64.4 million

And there have been a few films featuring marginalized groups, cultures, or lifestyles that met or exceeded our expectations:

Brokeback Mountain (2005) – $178.1 million , Hidden Figures (2016) – $236 million , Sex and the City (2008) – $415.2 million [Because proper any portrayals of sexual liberation for women is still an issue!]

But I would argue that no recent (or long past) films have been popular, have been lucrative, have been critically-acclaimed, and have been able to engender such poignant conversations on race, cultural representation, feminism, and historical narratives as this film as done ALL while featuring a predominantly non-white, mixed gender cast.

If you disagree, I dare you to call me out with a better example at any time in film history.

Black Panther is shattering box office records left and right. At the time of this post, it has already grossed a projected $235 million opening weekend debut, breaking at least seven records and landing in the top 10 of at least nine more! That’s amazing for any movie, but it is especially incredible for a film with a lead actor wearing a big-cat-themed leotard.

Director Ryan Coogler [Fruitvale Station (2013), Creed (2015)] and his amazing, star-studded cast accomplished by staying true to their mission of using the fictionalized nation of Wakanda to create an authentic, honest Afrocentric perspective. The creators and cast pulled no punches whatsoever in their dialogues. This movie tackled some huge issues that are relevant topics of discussion: colonialism, contemporary effects of slavery, cultural representation, global politics, and familial value systems.

It is also featured some glorious, underrepresented features of African culture: scarification, lip plates, masks, tribal garments, colors, ancestral worship, dancing and drums! Be still my beating heart.

It was fun for the whole family, no matter what your family looks like. It created an inclusive atmosphere for sharing the story of millions of people whose voices have traditionally be shut out without mixing words or downplaying solid, historical truths. It also did that without sacrificing great writing for good jokes. We took these characters and their world seriously the entire way through the film. And we were forced to consider not only their decisions and world purview, but our own as well.

I say thank you to everyone who contributed to this film. I know there are so many more posts I can (and probably will!) right about it. However, it was most important for me to go on record as saying, if you come from a culture, a lifestyle, a birthright that has been largely ignored or marginalized in the past, this film should excite you. Even if it did not represent your unique truth, it offered proof that our voices are all capable of creating something valuable and lucrative.

Our voices are all relevant. And our voices don’t have to labeled “marginalized” anymore. We’re just waiting on writers like you with the boldness and daring of these creators to give us the next record-shattering, truth-giving narrative.

 

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