Chadwick Boseman: Why did Black Panther have such a huge impact? | Ents & Arts News
Chadwick Boseman’s death at just 43 has stunned the movie world. Heralded as a “true original” who “shattered stereotypes” he won legions of fans for his role in Black Panther.
But why was the film such an important cultural moment, as well as a box office phenomenon?
Most importantly, it was the first big-budget superhero movie with a black hero, director and a majority black cast.
The significance was not lost on fans, some of whom went to cinemas in traditional African clothing to celebrate its depiction of black heritage and the fictional kingdom of Wakanda.
“It excited particularly young people – anybody who went to the early screenings felt the excitement and the interaction between audiences and what was happening on the screen,” Kunle Olulode, director of BAME advocacy group Voice4Change, told Sky News.
He said the film destroyed the idea that Hollywood couldn’t make big money from films dominated by black talent.
“The £1.3bn the film took speaks volumes – and his [Boseman’s] performance electrifies that film,” says Mr Olulode.
“He absolutely delivers in terms of projecting the character and exciting people, particularly young black people, in terms of possibilities of how society could be changed.
“[In] the cultural space of the film industry it is undoubtedly a milestone.”
The commercial success of the film – currently the 12th highest-grossing of all time – was backed up by critics and many black writers who praised it as a watershed moment when it was released in 2018.
“Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life,” said journalist Jamil Smith in Time magazine.
“Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted,” he wrote.
The New York Times called the film a “defining moment for black America”.
Two years on, it says it remains a “cultural touchstone – the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist; the first to star a majority black cast; and in Ryan Coogler, the first to employ a black writer and director”.
Its runaway success showed the “possibilities of [black] talent”, says the founder of the British Urban Film Festival, Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe.
As well as Boseman’s powerhouse performance, he told Sky News it showcased the likes of exciting young actors such as Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya.
Importantly, it was also helmed by 34-year-old black writer and director Ryan Coogler in only his third feature movie.
The marketing of the movie was also significant, notes Mr Anyiam-Osigwe.
“Disney, who were behind the film, decided to take the film out the traditional summer window, put it in February – which in America is Black History Month… They really did think about the marketing and the cultural impact”.
The star of the show was undeniable however: Boseman’s performance as T’Challa, king of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, thrust him into the consciousness of mainstream film fans around the world.
Kunle Olulode told Sky News the actor launched a “cultural phenomenon” and “absolutely embodies” the character – who first came to life in Marvel comics in the mid-1960s, amid the US civil rights movement.
The tributes from his Hollywood peers testify to Boseman’s talent – tragically cut short by a private battle with colon cancer – as well as his personality.
Thor star Chris Hemsworth’s reflection that Boseman was “one of the kindest most genuine people I’ve met” is typical of the messages from across Hollywood, as well as the music and political spheres.
The dilemma now is how to proceed with Black Panther 2, originally slated for release in 2022, without its charismatic lead.
Calling a halt to the series with so much money at stake appears a long shot, but Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe says they have “a real decision to make”.
“Some people will say leave Black Panther as it is – as a testament to Chadwick – or maybe they look for a successor… it’s a difficult situation.”