I could hardly wait for the box-office opening of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther.” I’d seen the trailers. I’d watched the endless months of hype. I bought tickets in advance and was there on opening day with my precocious daughter, Gigi. The film didn’t disappoint.
It’s not often that a superhero film gets so many things so right — from the screenplay, to the costumes, to the casting, to the marketing.
The Black Panther isn’t a new character from the Marvel universe. He was boldly and bravely created in 1966 by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby. But he’s always occupied space on Marvel’s B-roster of characters. Until now. Now, that B-roster superhero is shattering box-office records.
In large part, that’s thanks to its marketing genius.
The studios announced almost three years ago that it was planning to make this movie. And in certain enclaves, where Black Panther was already beloved, larger-than-life, it sparked immediate chatter and palpable excitement.
It would be first time a black superhero was featured as the leading character in a Marvel movie. Before Black Panther, Falcon was the most prominent black superhero, but he was mere sidekick to Captain America.
As months went by, Marvel Studios would release just a little more about “Black Panther.” The acclaimed, black director Ryan Coogler had signed on to the project. A star-studded cast, with African-American A-listers Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, was assembled. Then in July 2017, at Comic-Con International, the studio released a trailer. It received an almost-unheard-of standing ovation.
And the buzz just crescendoed.
Then came its record-shattering opening weekend.
Much would be made of the film’s release date in mid-February — not timed for the summer or Christmas holiday blockbuster season, when audiences traditionally make time to flock to movies. But this timing was impeccable, coinciding with Black History Month. The launch pad for this film was always going to be the African-American community. The studio knew that if the film created enough of a buzz with the African-American community, it would draw in all kinds of folks.
It did. According to analysis by comScore, the audience demographic for the opening weekend of “Black Panther” was 37% black and 35% white.
If you’re very selective about your target market, and you’ve got a great product, and you win over that target audience, they’ll tell other people. They become your acolytes. And that’s what happened with “Black Panther.”
Much of the credit goes to Marvel Studios for its impressive handling of the film. And much goes to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for creating the Black Panther character more than 50 years ago. They created this character who is a black male of African descent. And at that point in time in U.S. history, during the tumultuous 1960s, that was an audacious move.
They gave the character a vivid backstory. The Black Panther, whose real name is T’Challa, becomes king and protector of the people in the highly civilized, wealthy, technologically advanced African country of Wakanda, after the death of his father, King T’Chaka. T’Challa is not just strong, not just powerful, but he is also a genius. He holds a PhD in physics from Oxford and sheer intellect is one of his superpowers.
The films depictions, critics have said, make the film resonate on a level seldom seen before, benefitting from its largely positive portrayal of African cultures and values. In Hollywood films, Africa is so often depicted as filled with poverty, corruption and tragedy.
The film’s representation of women also resonates. Unlike in so many superhero films, the female characters in “Black Panther,” have authoritative roles. They counsel T’Challa after his rise to power, they protect him as part of the all-female army. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, is a positive female STEM role model, a scientist doing vital technological work on Vibranium (the strongest substance on Earth and found only in Wakanda). She’s a STEM hero. And her character now will inspire generations of young African-American women.
Driven by the “Black Panther” zeitgeist, community-outreach groups, churches and wealthy celebrities bought out entire screenings of the film for opening weekend and gave away tickets to underprivileged youth.
The positive messages, and our collective hunger for hope, are helping to fuel this film’s box-office success.
“Black Panther” is filled with powerful and uplifting messages that describe where we are and what we all must do to move forward.
In every good movie, there are lines that stay with you. For me, it was the line from King T’Chaka to his son, T’Challa. It’s about preparing the next generation to lead wisely and with dignity, and it speaks volumes about this film’s place in movie history.
“A man who has not prepared his children for his death has failed as a father.”