You may not realize this, but getting Black Panther into theaters and watching it become a worldwide success story - that was the easy part. Now that Black Panther has officially staked its claim on the world, the harder work begins: bring the film into the pop-culture zeitgeist in the right ways.
This will not be an easy task - or a very clean one. The world has just gotten a whole new look at black culture and its potential, and people now have new reason to idealize and value that cultural experience. So how do we extract those positive and expansive responses to the film while leaving behind some of the potentially offensive and tactless reactions? Let's discuss!
(Note: This is not a conversation for the sector of those who have tried to sabotage Black Panther's progress in one way or another - that would be something a futile endeavor.)
The first thing that we need to realize is that Black Panther is a piece of Marvel Comics fantasy - it is not an actual cultural textbook about Africa or its peoples. If the film's depiction of Wakanda and the Wakandan people resonated with you in a big way, then don't just lean on fantasy: take the time to learn more about the mix of actual African cultures that went into creating Wakanda!
Black Panther has opened a door for actual study and insight about Africa to become a prominent discussion point again - whether you're Caucasian, African-American, or anything in between. Increasing your knowledge of "The Motherland" and its rich collection of cultures and histories will only be a positive step in the right direction. Conversely, people walking around with the notion that actual black people should resemble a fictional culture from a movie? Not a good idea.
And if you're truly the curious type, learning the history of the Black Panther comic book character and/or Black Panther political group would only be a bonus.
There will inevitably be those who do actually go out and gain some bigger cultural awareness thanks to Black Panther, but gaining that knowledge is but one step in the process. Once you know more about African cultures, there's a fine line between showing appreciation of those cultures, and appropriating it.
This not a new concern that just arose with the release of Black Panther, either; there's an ever-present danger of certain cultures being mishandled and/or exploited by those who are outside of them, looking in.
So if, say, the fashion industry wants to start featuring more African designers and African-inspired fashions, which help continue to expand the range of mainstream fashion tastes and influences - that would be a good thing. On the other hand, if the fashion industry simply starts throwing African styles into the mix under the banner of major designers (without proper attribution of the sources), that wouldn't be cool at all.
The biggest danger for offense - aside from cultural appropriation - is no doubt cultural exoticization and/or fetishization.
To put it in layman's terms: characters like T'Challa, M'Baku, Shuri and the Dora Milaje aren't just becoming fan favorites because of their power or characters - it's also due to their extravagance and beauty. When peoples of foreign and/or exotic cultures suddenly become pop-culture sex symbols, there's a real tendency for those cultures to have their "exotic" nature fetishized in a way that is definitely offensive and inappropriate.
So, while Black Panther should be praised for expanding mainstream concepts of beauty, it's not an open invitation for people to play up their personal Dora Milaje fantasy in conversation with every black woman they meet - or for every black man of big stature to be labeled 'hot like M'Baku.' Foreign cultures exist for more than our personal titillation - best not get that confused.
This one is pretty straightforward, but also timely. As a collective, we need to get it worked out before Halloween arrives, and the downward spiral starts.
Now that Black Panther, Killmonger, Shuri, The Dora Milaje and many other Black Panther characters are household names, people are going to want to dress up like them. Not all of these people will be black - and that's okay! Part of a character becoming a mainstream hit is having people from all walks of life trying to emulate that character.
However, with Black Panther, one thing should be clear: the character's skin color doesn't need to be part of fans' costumes. In other words: Black Panther cosplay shouldn't be done in black-face. While it seems crazy that we should even have to say that in the year 2018, it's something that people seem to routinely get wrong when it comes to characters of color. So we're saying it.
Black Panther is the second case of the diversified superhero genre bearing some lucrative fruit; DC's Wonder Woman was also a major breakout success in 2017. People seem to be enjoying both films, each of which was made by a diverse choice in director (Ryan Coogler and Patty Jenkins, respectively).
But while it's true that having people respond to a wider range of POV is fun, the work shouldn't stop at the end of each movie's theatrical run: it should be a continuing process between each film installment.
There are so many opportunities for people to diversify their tastes in entertainment, whether it's movies, music, TV or other platforms. We're seeing more and more concrete proof that people are hungry for new points of view and experiences - they just need to start seeking them out more, rather than waiting for them to be served up in blockbuster fashion once or twice a year.
How do you feel about Black Panther's success? Have you seen its effect on popular culture begin to manifest? Let us know in the comments!
Black Panther is now in theaters. It will be followed by Avengers: Infinity War on April 27th, Ant-Man and the Wasp on July 6th, Captain Marvel on March 8th, 2019, the fourth Avengers movie on May 3rd, 2019, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 5th, 2019, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2020.