The Validation of the Superhero Flick
Written by Anton Charpentier
Perhaps the most laughed at and scrutinized genre of filmmaking in recent years is that of the superhero movie. Endless annoying debates have plagued the film community over the quality or merit of superhero movies; to a point of pure exhaustion. Here’s the truth, they’re good movies, they’re fun and entertaining and offer enough subtlety to discuss the film in some depth. They’re essentially the perfect formula of classical Hollywood cinema. Yet, for the first time in history a Marvel movie is among the nominees for best picture at the Oscars; In fact, Black Panther (2018) totals seven Oscar nominations. There’s a part of me that thinks this might be a move to increase viewership at this year’s award show, but my gut says that it’s because of a political shift in the superhero genre itself.
Looking back on the history of the Marvel, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about how any of the films attempted to make a political statement about America or make a statement about anything at all really. That is to say until recently with the release of Black Panther which doesn’t deviate far from Marvel’s narrative formula but does incorporate political elements that shifts the film from being your standard popcorn flick. Certainly, there’s a lot to be said about the casting, which is a net positive for younger audience who don’t get a chance to see themselves on the big screen as often as they should; not to mention the amazing box office successes we’ve seen this year when studios actually portray diversity in their films.
Black Panther does something else that pushes itself into what I’d argue is scholarly material. The film depicts black culture in a variety of social and economic strata, ranging from the streets of Oakland to the high tech and wealthy country of Wakanda. In this range is also the influence of America, with Oakland being the most influenced and conversely Wakanda being entirely detached from America’s influence. Subtly the film makes a statement on the America’s influence on the black culture and socio-economic status. This is most profoundly done in the films production and costume design which actively avoids the American status quo. This visual queue in a mainstream Hollywood film doesn’t scream active protest but rather subconsciously counter acts the average American viewers perception of what black culture is. This is affirmed later in the film when T'Challa, Nakia, and Okoye go undercover in Korea wearing Americanized clothing.
It’s moves like this that separate Black Panther from the rest of Marvel’s catalogue of films. One that I think makes it a political film, a great film, and perhaps even an Oscar worthy film. In all honesty, entire papers could be written about the film. My measly five hundred word spiel doesn’t do the film justice, but I hope it motivates more people to think about the film in a more scholarly approach.