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‘Black Panther’ cultural significance reaches Eau Claire

March 8, 2018

Ten years, 17 films, $13 billion in box office revenue, and zero black leads.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has ruled the international film box office for the past decade, delivering films from their near century-long line of comic books. The majority of these films feature predominantly white actors including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo. However, the 18th film in the MCU offers something different, and Eau Claire community members are responding.

“Black Panther” is poised to become the fifth Marvel Studios-produced film to cross the $1 billion international box office gross threshold. © 2018 Parker Reed

“Black Panther,” starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o debuted to US audiences Feb. 16 and received instant critical and commercial success. The film currently holds a 97 percent approval rating on the popular critic review site Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 7.8 out of 10 on the popular fan review site IMDB.

In the film’s first three days of release it grossed $202 million in the United States, the fifth highest of all time and the largest debut by a black American director (Ryan Coogler), according to boxofficemojo.com.  

To add to the film’s commercial success, it is the highest grossing film so far in 2018, standing at $921 million, according to boxofficemojo.com, and is the fifth highest grossing film in the MCU after three weeks of release.

Quentin Tickler, a graduate of Eau Claire North High School, said “Black Panther” is more than a superhero action film.

“I think it’s a broader film for more audience,” Tickler said. “You don’t have to like superhero movies to go see it. There’s more meaning to get out of it than just that.”

“Black Panther” keeps in tradition with other Marvel films as an action-filled film, but it’s also praised for its use of traditional African culture, starring a predominantly black cast, female warriors and a soundtrack featuring many black recording artists. The film also does not rely on cameos from other Marvel stars to ensure its success.  

Adam Accola, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate, said the way people around the world reacted to the film upon its release was interesting.

“Seeing how different people reacted, specifically black people seeing their culture represented so well in a mainstream film, was fascinating,” Accola said. “Along with films like ‘Wonder Woman,’ these studios are giving marginalized people someone to look up to and identify with on screen.”

Accola said many people may try and denote the success as it is part of a bigger Marvel machine, but that the film’s popularity is part of something bigger than the Marvel franchise.

“People may be skeptical and say people only saw it because it is a Marvel movie,” Accola said, “but I know for a fact black people went out to see it because it represented them.”

Over the film’s opening weekend, 37 percent of the U.S. audience was black, according to fortune.com. The film is hitting home with black audiences on a much wider spectrum than most mainstream films, which averages a 15 percent black audience.

Noah Clayton, a UW-Eau Claire senior business student, said another aspect of the film hit home with a lot of movie goers.

“In America we tend to see Africa as a set of periphery countries, so it was cool to see Wakanda (Black Panther’s home city) represented as a gem,” Clayton said.

The city of Wakanda, the place where most of the events of the story unfold, is a secret city in the eastern part of Africa. It is displayed as having advanced technology, modern language, fierce warriors and as one of the most developed civilizations in the world.

This depiction of an African city is unconventional in American film, which usually portrays African civilizations as undeveloped and primitive. A few organizations took notice of this messaging and made it a point to get underprivileged youth to see the film, including organizations at UW-Eau Claire.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) and the Center for International Education, Recreation, and Sports collaborated to co-sponsor 68 college students to see the film over its opening weekend at Carmike Cinemas in Eau Claire.

Student Services Coordinator for OMA, Michael Thomas, said the entities wanted to make this happen because it is a unique event in cinematic history.

“Students were able to see on the big screen Marvel’s first black superhero being depicted in a way that I feel like was uplifting,” Thomas said. “It isn’t very often people of color are depicted that way in mainstream culture.”

He said the film’s presentation of black culture, African civilizations and black heroes prompt a positive change in the current cultural landscape.

“Putting a film like ‘Black Panther’ out there in the spotlight,” Thomas said, “in terms of a positive figure for black America is a great step in the right direction.”

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