By: Kalynna Davies
January 26th, 2023
“Black Panther” has been a roaring success.
Since the character was first introduced during “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, fans had been itching to get more of Chadwick Boseman on screen. This was fulfilled when “Black Panther” came out in 2018, the first Marvel Studios film with a Black director, Ryan Coogler, and a predominantly Black cast.
This ignited an excitement in movie go-ers who look forward to seeing diversity on the screen and behind the camera. With fans flocking to theaters, the first film set high numbers in sales. During the 4-day-opening weekend, the first “Black Panther” made $242 million in domestic box office sales alone, and 168.7 million in international sales.
These numbers gave “Black Panther” plenty of impressive feats—in a four-day weekend, the film took third place for having the highest gross sales, and was only the fifth movie to debut with over $200 million on an opening weekend. The second installation of the series, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, has proved that there is just a voracious appetite for these kinds of narratives.
“Wakanda Forever” didn’t beat out its predecessor in sales, but it came very close. After the unfortunate passing of Boseman in 2020, fans everywhere flooded the theaters to see what the world of Wakanda had become without him. In the opening weekend, the film made $180 million domestically and $331 million worldwide, making it the second largest opening film of 2022, only after Doctor Strange’s “Multiverse of Madness.” The numbers only continue to grow, passing $773 million in the global box office and enjoying its fifth weekend as number one.
Coogler found the movie’s stride in overcoming loss, confronting colonialism and giving power to the matriarchal figures. While Angela Bassett’s performance wasn’t what brought people from all over to watch the film, it was particularly notable with the actress’s grace and elegance in her role. In an interview with Dave Itzkoff at The New York Times, Bassett responded to the question of continuing the series in the midst of mourning Bosement. “These lives, these images that we see, we applaud them. Look at this excellence. On so many levels, it was so encouraging. Then there was talk of, How are we going to do it without Mr. Boseman, our leader? I couldn’t see someone else attempting to step in those shoes. . . But I was of the mind that if a way can be found, Ryan most definitely is the man for the job.”
Coogler makes sure this excellence extends past the Black cast members, though. With this new movie came the introduction of Namor, played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta, a powerhouse element of the film. In the comic books, Namor is the son of a human sailor and Atlantis princess. Coogler modified this role, making him the dignified ruler of the underwater kingdom Talokan (also seen as Talocan), a fictional kingdom inspired by ancient Mayan culture.
This nod to Indigenous culture pervades every aspect of his character, down to costuming, with chunky, intricate pieces that are distinctive from the cultural garb of Wakanda. Huerta commented on this desire for representation in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, stating “This is what inclusion means. It’s not just putting some brown-skinned people in front of the camera and giving them an important role. It’s how you’re creating the movie.”
Ultimately, that is the appeal of both Black Panther films. By putting Black and Brown people at the forefront of their own films and their own stories, they are able to craft narratives that speak to the hearts of those communities. Narratives that imagine Black and Brown people as complex people with the ability to grow, to love, to hurt—to be right, and wrong and maybe some of both—that is what movies like Black Panther encourage.
It almost seemed impossible to live up to the legacy that Boseman left behind in the original Black Panther film, but thanks to the collective efforts of the actors and movie makers alike they’ve managed to produce a piece that aims to acknowledge difficult themes reflected in reality.
Even in loss, new life blooms. There is a distinctive Boseman-shaped hole left in the franchise, everyone on set honored his legacy as mourning the Black Panther, mourning Boseman. In an interview, Lupita Nyong’o (who played opposite T’Challa as love interest Nakia) stated that “it was emotional but therapeutic”, and that the movie “doesn’t shy away from the loss of Chadwick Boseman, it embraces it.”
Coogler uses this film as a bridge for mourning both Boseman and T’Challa. With Boseman’s visage all over the film and plot elements such as Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) mourning and T’Challa’s unexpected son–the movie builds up to an ending that hints at a bright future for Wakanda, and a beautiful past legacy for Boseman.
Audiences everywhere will be watching closely for updates on this African utopia, and the stories they will tell.
Kalynna Davies is an English major in her senior year. She has a concentration in creative writing and a minor in film—these are both activities she enjoys outside of the classroom, as well. In the future, she intends to use these skills to cultivate counterstories in an array of media—from novel to film.