Can this screen hero stir a sea change in the industry?

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

There has, perhaps, never been a more fitting time to talk about race.

As Donald Trump’s first year in office wrapped up in January, it was a moment loaded with years of simmering racial tensions that finally boiled over as he reiterated his pledge to make America great again.

By February, one month into Trump’s term, the university campus at Berkeley, California became a war zone as 1,500 people gathered to protest a planned speech by alt-right polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos.

In August, violence ignited in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Civil War general Robert E Lee became a tangle of racial hatred.

In September, NFL players, led by player Colin Kaepernick, took a knee during the national anthem in silent protest for an unfair justice system driven by prejudice.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of colour,” Kaepernick said at the time.

“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..Zuri (Forest Whitaker)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

Then on 7th February this year, Muhiyyidin Moye, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, was shot and killed in New Orleans.

It’s amid this turmoil that certain players in the film industry are trying to do a better job of representing race on screen. Jordan Peele’s suburban horror Get Out, released just one month after the inauguration, gave us an insight into the very real terror of racism while Thor: Ragnarok gave us the most prominent black superheroine we’ve seen in ages.

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

It seems very timely, then, that Black Panther is set to release on 15th February.

Starring Chadwick Boseman, the film follows T’Challa – also known as the eponymous Black Panther – who returns home to his African nation of Wakanda to take the throne after his father’s death.

As his country comes under threat, the hero must step up for his people and prevent a war from beginning. As the first black superhero gets ready to storm onto the silver screen, the gravity of the moment is not lost on lead actor Boseman.

“When I was shooting Black Panther in Atlanta, I used to drive back on off days to go see my family in Anderson [South Carolina],” he told mrporter.com.

“And I would see the Klan holding rallies in a Walmart car park. So it’s like we’re going forward and backward at the same time. People don’t want to experience change, they just want to wake up and it’s different. But this – shooting Black Panther and then driving past the Klan – that’s what change feels like.”

But even though Black Panther represents a new moment in a whitewashed superhero universe, it would be naïve to think that this is the dawn of a new era – after all, the Black Panther character debuted in the 1960s, and it’s taken until now to see him on the big screen.

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

It’s a fact that director Ryan Coogler acknowledges. “I think progress comes in ebbs and flows,” he told Variety.

“I hope things continue to open up. As more content gets made, more opportunities like ours can come about for folks. But you’ve got to put your foot on the gas when it comes to that or things can go back to where they were.”

Also starring: Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman and Forest Whitaker
Rating: PG15
Running time: 135 mins

WORDS Camille Hogg

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