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Finally: The importance of Black Panther and representation in Hollywood

Is Black Panther just a movie, or a reflection of a growth in black representation in the media?

Over the half term I was lucky enough to watch the marvel superhero movie Black Panther ; even though the movie had been surrounded by anticipations of greatness, it did not fail to impress. The movie had a majority black cast: with Chadwick Boseman playing the protagonist T’challa, and Michael B Jordan playing the antagonist Killmonger, the cinemas were kept full with back-to-back screenings. On arrival I could already feel the gravitas of everyone’s excitement, with many people arriving to watch the movie in traditional African clothing. However, one question remains: why? Why were people so excited? Why did people expect so much from just one movie? Well, because of the rarity of representation. There is a beauty in representation that unites people because, finally, young black actors were given the chance to demonstrate skills and play characters outside of the usual gang crime or slave storyline.

Hollywood is dominated by white males, which is a generally accepted idea, but this has actually been proven. The University of Southern California studied the 700 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2014, excluding 2011, and analysed the race and ethnicity of more than 30,000 characters to reveal diversity in film. The findings showed that for nearly a decade, filmmakers have made virtually no progress in portraying more characters from non-white racial and ethnic identities. Black Panther has created a platform for black directors to explore film, and overall giving a new generation of black actors and actresses the chance to emerge. In addition to this, young black children now have a black superhero to point to, which allows them to look to an example of someone who lives within their own context of experience, and has still managed, despite the odds to achieve their dreams in an industry that rarely caters for them. This is beautiful because not only does this provide inspiration through role models, but it means black children may no longer have to look to the world as a place where they are passive in existence but a place where they too can see peers who “look like” them. When a child is given images of kings, princesses and heroes who represent them, they too know they can have these roles. The movie has already grossed more than the Justice League‘s entire run at 404 million US dollars, and it has only been out in the cinemas for a week.

However, my favourite part of the film – at risk of spoiling it – is that it highlights that Africans and African-Americans are not the same. Despite having the same skin colour and ancestral roots, because of slavery there has been a social dissociation from Africa, with the media often pushing an image of an uncivilised, poverty-stricken wasteland. Although Africa is not perfect at all, Wakanda gives perspective of what it could have looked like without the economic and social blight of colonisation and slavery. For so long African-Americans have been robbed of their culture and of their roots, forming almost a metaphorical speciation of black people. Many even call for the removal of “African-American” from their ethnic title. However, Black Panther provides them of a form of incentive to know their culture and understand there is a beauty in culture and tradition which is not impossible to find.https://goo.gl/images/awzdNK

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