Black people have been striving to remind the world for years that Africa is a continent, not a country. A continent made up of nations rich with histories and achievements in fields from the arts to mathematics.
But such representation has seldom been portrayed by Hollywood.
Then along came “Black Panther,” which opens in theaters across the country on Friday.
Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, who returns to the fictitious African nation of Wakanda to take reign as king after his father was killed in “Captain America: Civil War.”
The fearsome warrior superhero was first created as a Marvel comic book character by Stan Lee and his colleague Jack Kirby in the 1960s, a time when African Americans were battling for civil rights .
Boseman spoke with CNN about how the comic’s progressive nature — set in a technically advanced African nation during a time people of African descent were fighting for equality — drew him to the project.
“Having studied at Howard [a historically black university in Washington D.C.] and having various different experiences within our culture, I knew it was an opportunity to pull from real things, real achievements, real African culture and place it in this movie to make it real.” Boseman said. “If anybody believes that Africa didn’t have an empire, didn’t have architecture, didn’t have art, didn’t have science, you see it in this movie.”
Anticipation for the film has inspired think pieces and funny memes. A colorful spoken word piece has gone viral as “Black Panther” mania grows.
There’s almost always excitement surrounding a Marvel film, but “Black Panther” is more than just a movie.
It’s a movement.
Consider this: a film that explores what it means to be black, centered on a black superhero, featuring a mostly-black cast, and helmed by a black director is on pace to be one of Marvel’s biggest blockbusters.
Tickets have sold out around the country. Teachers are planning to take entire classes. Facebook gatherings have sprung up around screenings. Actress Olivia Spencer went public with her desire to buy out a movie theater in Mississippi to give fans, who otherwise not may not be able to afford it, a chance to see the film.
On social media, eager moviegoers have shared what they plan on wearing to the cinema.
“Black Panther” co-star Michael B. Jordan told CNN the movie is “super important” and “impactful for our culture moving forward.”
“It’s humbling and very surreal that this is a major introduction, almost a reintroduction of black fantasy, sci-fi, mythology, for the generation growing up,” Jordan said. “I can’t wait for Halloween to see everyone dressing up as the Dora Milaje [the female special forces in the film], Black Panther and Killmonger [the super villain Jordan portrays].”
The hashtag “WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe” has been trending.
“It means that my kids and young black kids everywhere will see themselves as heroes capable of leading their own narratives,” tweeted director Matthew A. Cherry
The issue of lack of representation of African Americans has long been one for Hollywood, even before #OscarsSoWhite shined a light on it.
And “Black Panther” offers a star-studded cast made up of African and African American actors.
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia in the movie, told CNN it’s “humbling” to think that she and co-star Danai Gurira will be the faces of Marvel dolls tied to the film — and not just for children of color.
“We do know that those kinds of things shape one’s subconscious values, and so now there will be dark-skinned dolls that kids from everywhere can play with,” Myong’o said. “I played with white dolls all the time. I think that to have dark-skinned dolls in the hands of other races is just as important as having it in the hands of black kids themselves.”
In the midst of his project potentially making history, director Ryan Cooler has a universal desire for “Black Panther.”
“I just hope [fans] have a good time,” he said. “Watching the film, I hope they have an exciting time, I hope they can get emotionally involved and engaged.”