By DeForest Mapp
Superhero King T’Challa led the multitudes to “Black Panther” for two consecutive weekends. The blockbuster topped attendance at any other movie with a domestic gross of $400 million and shattered previous earnings records for a film that showcased a majority African American cast.
“Black Panther” made gold for a Marvel gamble that debuted on 4,020 screens at midnight, Friday, Feb. 15. Many theaters nationwide sold out screening the film with a production price tag north of $150 million.
“[Black Panther] was really a story about a family and a monarch that had to make a big decision whether to bring his country into the greater part of the world or not,” said Gary Hardwick, filmmaker of Deliver Us From Eva and The Brothers. “I was really surprised that they went with that story as opposed to all the other things they could have done.”
“Black Panther” brought us to the home of King T’Challa, who sought to keep his country cloaked from the outside world. And in doing so, he learned he could never protect those who mattered to him most without building strong alliances.
“[Chadwick Boseman] was the only choice [for T’Challa],” Marvel President Kevin Feige said during the film’s official press conference held in Beverly Hills, California. “We were sitting around the table. We were coming up for the story for [Captain America] Civil War. Nate Moore, the executive producer, had … suggested bringing in Black Panther because we were looking for sort of a third party who wouldn’t necessarily side with [Captain America] or side with Iron Man. And almost instantly we all said, ‘Chadwick.’”
Director Ryan Coogler subtly tied the film to Oakland, California. Since the actual Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland in 1966, the ties between Wakanda (created with special effects) and Oakland were intentional but clever.
“Wakanda was built in a room with Ryan [Coogler] and the incredible design team. And so, to see it alive, it’s almost unimaginable,” said Lupita Nyong’o during the press conference for Black Panther.
Wakanda, on the surface, connected to many rural areas of Africa. But T’Challa took the audience beyond a barrier hidden to the naked-eye. “Black Panther” revealed a sense of community in Wakanda that the regular world may have found inconceivable. Leaving the world we know for this imagined world felt real.
“I think that [Black Panther] reveals that there is far greater potential in this world that we sometimes see every day,” said Chicago non-profit executive Ruth-Anne Renaud, 53, after seeing “Black Panther” at the Arclight Cinema in Chicago with her husband Tom.
King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) shared good chemistry but the timeliness and the importance of love could have been called into question when Nakia felt the gravity of what was at stake.
“In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen,” said Angela Bassett, Queen Mother in the film, during Marvel’s press conference of the film. “I was so proud to have my daughter and my son there last night because in their faces, in their spirit… they were feeling themselves. They stood taller” during the official press conference.
Simple factors as well as great filmmaking contributed to Black Panther’s triumphant success. First, it’s in the Marvel cinematic universe, which has a loyal fan base. Second, African American films have always done well at the box office relative to their often modest budgets. African American romantic comedies from 1995 to 2008 had budgets between $6 million and $30 million, while generating total domestic revenues of approximately $1 billion, according to The Numbers, Imdb and Box Office Mojo.
“I did have high expectations [for Black Panther] but I went into it with a very open mind, knowing that it would be different than other Marvel movies and stories, but really not sure what to expect,” said Chicago sales and marketing executive Tom Renaud, after seeing “Black Panther” at the Arclight Cinema. “So, I went into it with a very open mind knowing that the production value was going to be very high.”
Add to the Marvel-recipe the Disney Co.’s global marketing, its distribution partners and a well-written story. The result was a high-concept superhero who keeps his people safe by literally hiding them from the rest of the world. An intuitive audience used this as an opportunity to explore its curiosity.
“Sky’s the limit now that they’ve brought X-Men and they’ve brought Spiderman back into the [current Marvel] family,” Hardwick said. “So, [Marvel] can do anything now if they wanted to.”
If there was any power to draw from the story of “Black Panther” it might be for Hollywood executives to exert more commitment to connect with segmented audiences. Though “Black Panther” came from the Marvel universe, there are other science fiction stories to be told. Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time” is but one due to be released in March.
“Make more stories that show the full spectrum of humanity and capability and possibility,” is what Ruth-Anne Renaud said she would say to Disney Studios Chairman, Alan Horn, if he were standing at the Arclight theater.