It's a big day for me. It's the time that the black nerd from the United States gets to see his years of comic book fandom rewarded in a way and at a level that is literally everything we dreamed about but were afraid to ask for. "Dreamed about" because we always relished the chance to see characters that resembled us and our unique experience inside the worlds of super powers and pulp justice that we'd connected to. "Afraid to ask for," because even at our most imaginative, there was a great deal of evidence that if given the chance, such an undertaking would be mishandled, poorly received, and completely tone deaf; a failure with a proper blockbuster budget would mean it could be a decade or more before someone would try again.
Because that's the penalty for failure in Hollywood for those that attempt something that strays from the paradigm of white, straight, male hero. When it goes bad as it often does, it's because they "strayed from the formula," not because they didn't make or promote the property. In other words, Matt Damon has star power even when shooting movies about dragons attacking the Great Wall of China, but Denzel Washington "won't play well overseas because the world is racist" (as evidenced in the Sony leak).
So when Marvel Studios announced they were going to finally, after 20 years of development hell and rumors, release a movie of their most popular Black characters, the Black Panther, it was good news but I remained skeptical. I love almost every movie Marvel has done, but at the time literally 100% of them had white, male, cisgendered leads with powers beyond that of mortal men who meted out justice extra-judiciously, prioritizing their own moral code over the laws of the land or consensus of the people they claim to protect. To be fair, it's practically baked into the super-hero template. It doesn't mean it isn't fun. Quite the contrary. However, the superhero on screen and in control, and whose decisions matter being so white and so male so often nearly all the time definitely has an effect on the psyche of us all.
Despite Marvel being the studio in the best position to take on such a lofty challenge, I wondered if they could really switch gears and give Black Panther the royal treatment (pun intended). It was scary to think about how wrong it could go, but little by little the news got better and better. Chadwick Boseman as T'challa. Ryan Coogler, fresh off Creed, as the director. Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyongo, Danai Gurira, Angela freakin Bassett. Kendrick Lamar on the soundtrack? Marvel/Disney really were bold enough to spend 200 million dollars making quite possibly the blackest blockbuster all time? As the production progressed, it began to seem more and more like Marvel/Disney was doing the peculiar thing and backing their Black talent with their full might both in scope and perspective. That is incredible.
Regardless of how it all shakes out with the film, for those of us that are fans of the Black Panther character this film is truly a thing of beauty. But for those of us that grew up never expecting to ever see the Black superheroics and storytelling at this high a level it's something beyond mere beauty. It's an opportunity to exist less apart from the rest of a world and more at the forefront of it. It's a chance to see what a world without colonialism looks like. It's an opportunity to see a vision of majesty and justice that exists outside the methods we know. A chance to be a template rather than an alternative, and chance to see white men as sidekicks and background characters to African characters.
See, I noticed something about many Black movies I've seen. Black protagonists still exists in worlds where white is the dominant skin color and the people that look a certain way hold the power and influence. In many movies, a Black protagonist and their family are the only Black faces amidst a sea of white antagonists and grudging supporters eventually won over due to the Black characters unbelievable pluck and tenacity. The maid is black, but the whole family is white. The cop is black but his partner and the rest of the department is white. The NASA scientists are black, but the rest of the organization is a group of white men a hundred strong that won't even allow our Black female main characters to pee in the same building without it being a whole drama unto itself. And when it's all said and done, more white people leave the production with pay checks than black people.
In Wakanda, we have a chance to see a world that doesn't even fathom these ideals as a template. We get to see Black creators go forth and attempt to make a masterpiece of afrofuturism. We get to live in a miraculous moment that is more than worth the price of admission. I'm confident the movie will live up to its promise.