By outward appearance, Marvel’s Black Panther is a superhero film. It’s got a blue-ribbon cast (Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan and more) and a Kendrick Lamar-compiled soundtrack album that just won’t quit, but aside from that, it could be standard Marvel stuff—the hero’s journey, the cool costumes and kickass action scenes.
Except that it’s more than that. “When we think of a superhero, we think of a white image,” says Minister Stretch Sanders, president of local community solidarity group All Shades United. “To see a black superhero movie—with a nearly all-black cast—is wonderful. We know that superheroes aren’t real, but to young kids—every little kid wants to be a superhero. And my dream is to see superheroes that represent all.”
Panther is proving to be a cultural epoch even before most folks have seen it. Its cast and director (Creed/Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler) are making a huge media splash. Schools and private groups are buying up entire screenings. And movie industry experts predict a big opening weekend, in excess of $150 million.
Filmmaker Sean Jackson, a longtime Vegas resident recently relocated to LA (who still shoots films here regularly), is excited by what Panther could mean for his trade. “I hear a lot of, ‘Oh, those are black fans,’ like we spent less money,” he says. “Somehow, studio heads seem to think that if you do something with a black theme or with a lot of black input, it’s gonna turn into a ‘black film,’ and that will limit its appeal. That’s not the case. … Black influence on popular culture is enormous. As a group, we’re hardcore consumers. If you’re trying to sell something, why not sell to us?
“If Black Panther does well, hopefully it’ll open a door,” Jackson continues. “If this thing busts wide open, I hope that they’ll look for more black projects to do. … And the [Hollywood] mentality that ‘if you give us something, then you’ll have less’—that’s the wrong mentality. It’s an ‘and.’ Not ‘you or me’; it’s ‘you and me.’”
Though he’s less excited about the film itself (“I’m not really into films like that … I’ll probably see it once the hype dies down”) and is somewhat leery of its corporate backing, Minister Sanders is equally excited by what Panther could do at the community level.
“Everything we see is always white—the superheroes, the princesses,” he says. “It’s fun to see a superhero movie putting black people in a position where we can be proud of our culture. A superhero is the coolest thing you can be in the fake world.”
And Panther has already resulted in one trend Minister Sanders appreciates without reservation. “On social media, you see people making jokes about showing up to screenings with dashikis on,” he says. “I think that’s wonderful, because I dress like that all year long.”
Black Panther Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Rated PG-13. Opens February 16 citywide.