ASU faculty discuss cultural significance of 'Black Panther'

The University will be holding multiples screenings of the film during Black History Month

Marvel’s highly anticipated film “Black Panther,” which opens Feb. 16, has broken Fandango ticket sale records and sold out at multiple theaters throughout the country, making it one of the most anticipated films of the year behind “Avengers: Infinity War.”

ASU will be holding multiple screenings and a discussion of the film in the month-long celebration of Black History Month, including one organized with help from Mathew Sandoval, an honors faculty fellow at ASU, on Feb. 17.


Sandoval, who will be part of a panel along with other film scholars, said he thinks releasing the film during Black History Month was strategic, since February is generally not considered a big release month for studios.

Sandoval said Black Panther is an extremely popular comic book hero, and it was just a matter of time before the movie was made. He said the film coming out in the current political climate is especially significant in wake of “the Oscars so white” debate.

“It means more now than it may have ever meant, and we need this hero now more than we ever have,” Sandoval said.

University Innovation Fellow Aya Waller-Bey said as soon as she saw the trailer for “Black Panther” in the fall she began planning for a group to get together and see the film on opening night. Waller-Bey said the group almost bought out the entire theater for that night.

She said she will also be participating in conversations ASU is hosting around the movie for Black History Month, but she still wanted to see the film once before to contribute financially to the movie and to be able to fully experience it.

“I think it’s important that I put my money behind the film, and I also know that I’m going to be too excited and not really looking at it critically the first time,” Waller-Bey said. 

She said that though “Black Panther” is not the first fiction film to feature a cast that primarily includes people of color, it is the first one to really be in the spotlight. 

She said that kids are already dressing up in "Black Panther" costumes, showing the importance of positive representation of black characters in film and media.


“I think it’s important that they’re able to see Black Panther, who is a strong, well-spoken character, and seeing him as a darker-skinned male, all of those things are important,” she said. “Not only black characters, but African characters with darker skin and natural hair, these are important signals and signs to young children that they are beautiful.”

Michael Green, who teaches the class “Race and Gender in American Film,” said that though the movie is fictitious it is relevant when talking about Black History Month, not because of the content but because of its position in history.

“It does actually have a lot to do with history if you contextualize it within the history of African American representation in movies," he said. "Especially in American movies and especially in Hollywood, which has been very white since its inception and has institutionally excluded people of color. That’s changed somewhat in recent decades, but not nearly as much as would represent the reality of the demographics of our country.”

Green said that the movie is going to be important to the African American community and that there is a unique black experience to seeing a film with a predominately black cast.

“People respond really well when they see positive representations of themselves, or any representation up on the screen, but especially positive,” Green said. “Here you have a movie where the heroes are black, the villains are black, the love interests are black and the supporting characters are black, and that’s a big deal.”

He said though there have been black superheroes in the past, the fact that “Black Panther” has such a big budget — around $200 million — is historically significant because of the fact that many black-centered movies often have smaller budgets or characters that are white washed in their creation.

“Black Panther is important, not just in pop culture, but culture,” Green said.

He said he is hopeful that if “Black Panther” does well, Hollywood will start creating more diverse films, but in the meantime, viewers should support black filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma” and the upcoming film “A Wrinkle in Time.

Green said that though it is important for institutions to celebrate Black History Month and to recognize the achievements of black individuals during the month of February, it’s also important to not forget about these achievements the rest of the year.

“It’s important that we don’t make black history this precious special moment that we engage with and then forget the rest of the year. We should be consuming a diversity of films and stories and fighting for inclusion across every strata of our society," he said.


Reach the reporter at abpotter@asu.edu and follow @lexipotter04 on Twitter. 

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