Reactions to Black Panther: The mess behind the marvel


Sam Mwakasisi, Opinion Editor

Although we’re barely two months into 2018, Black Panther is already taking the world of film by storm. The first predominantly black Marvel film, its significance in today’s tempestuous racial climates has received immense levels of attention, and the hodgepodge of subsequent reactions bring to the spotlight some disconcerting societal problems.

Although our first taste of a live-action Black Panther portrayal came in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, this official adaptation was 26 years in the making. The film began drumming up seemingly endless fanfare long before its release today. Early reviews called it one of the best Marvel films ever made, and it has the highest number of ticket presales in the company’s history.

Unlike a common misconception, it is not the first black superhero movie (that credit goes to Spawn, released in 1997), but it’s undoubtedly the first on such a large scale; it’s the first Marvel film with a black-majority cast.

The film is deeply self-aware about its significance, extending this mindset as far as its soundtrack, which blends elements of African music with modern-day hip-hop and R&B, simultaneously utilizing a list of principally black features that enthusiasts of the genres will look at like a Super Smash Bros. roster.

Inevitably, while it has a massive sum of supporters, there is a small minority against Black Panther. Some of it stems from the continuously existing hate in the world. Online groups of racists and trolls formed plans to take to sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes to sabotage the film’s user review scores. At the time of this writing, the film’s user scores on both sites range around 76%, a score quite dissonant from the continuous acclaim it’s receiving.

However, criticism from a less pejorative perspective has also cropped up. Ed Power of the Irish Independent gave the film a 3/5 rating, which was filtered as the first negative review of the film on Rotten Tomatoes, bringing the overall rating down from a 100%. The review was met with torrents of backlash, and the fervent enthusiasm backing it seemingly blurred the line between a question of accuracy in Power’s review and people instantly coming to the film’s defense.

While a commonly ridiculed claim of Power’s was that Black Panther did not “jump around beating-up bad guys” to a sufficient extent, something in the review that piqued my interest far more concerned the film’s stature in a greater scope. “[Black Panther] is expected to stand for something bigger than itself,” Power said.

Black Panther does transcend being a film. It’s more of a statement as well as a sobering reflection on the current social status of black people. While the film has rightfully become a cultural epoch, it has also become a sacred cow. In some circles, anyone who projects even the smallest criticism towards can easily be called a racist, much like how those who had less-than-glowing words for the all-female Ghostbusters remake gave themselves open space to be called sexist or anti-feminist.

Outside of the film’s narrative entirely, people have taken it upon themselves to make complete fools of themselves in regards to who can and cannot comment on the film. Some instances ventured into the swamp of demeaning white people. Take, for example, journalist Tyler Baines-Cadbury, who tweeted a claim that “white people shouldn’t be allowed to review Black Panther lest their innate racial bias subconsciously reflect in their reviewing.”

This same down-talk towards white people was reflected into a bizarrely internalized white guilt by Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor for The Planetary Society. She wrote a since-deleted tweet talking about her avoiding purchasing opening-weekend tickets for the film since “[she] did not want to be the white person sucking Black [sic] joy out of the theater.”

Ultimately, the hullabaloo surrounding Black Panther seems to represent my deepest fears about how people would react taking form. The tenderness of its social applicability made fervor-filled debates inevitable, although it certainly branched out in paths that I never would’ve predicted that serve as signs of the times. However, the positivity that continues to rise from the swamp of negativity leaves me with hope for how our society will continue to respond to unignorable statements such as this one.

Components for featured image from Marvel Studios, CNET, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today, WBGH News, Daily Wire, The Denver Post, NY Post, Patriotic Viral News