• Marie Q. Francois

Reclaiming Black Panther

I had to pause for several months before posting this. The Death of Chadwick Boseman was a shock as well as a significant loss. And I genuinely commend those around him for honoring his wishes to keep his illness a secret. In Hollywood is a rare privilege.

Chadwick Boseman played many great roles in his life that I utterly enjoyed. From Jackie Robinson to James Brown. I even remember his small role on Fringe. Whatever he played, he represented his characters very well. While his acting career was filled with these excellent opportunities, I always thought his role as Black Panther would surely last at least three to five more single releases or Avenger collaborations. I practically had my outfit set to show out for the next release when I started hearing that they were going to phase out the Black Panther character in January long before his death. Chadwick Boseman was against this, as cited in an article that came out January 23, 2020, called Diversity Destroying Black Panther Chadwick Boseman Unhappy.

Let me tell you, when I read this, I was furious and thought it disrespectful to write Chadwick Boseman off so soon. Why would they do this to this man and the beloved character that just came out the gate? It was the most successful Marvel movie. Yes, I know the Avenger movies made more. But keep in mind that Black Panther was the only standalone character movie to make almost 1.4 billion dollars. And while Avengers made more, it is a compilation of many characters and cost a lot more to produce. We can't help but wonder why they will cut the Black Panther character when all the other Marvel male superheroes ran several standalone movies and made less. Iron Man had three, Captain America had two, Thor had two, and Guardians of the Galaxy had two. Hell, even Hulk and Ant-Man, had two. By the way, Hulk was re-casted three times. Why are they discussing moving on to Shuri to be Black Panther so soon with such an established following of the Original Black Panther? Aside from the money, is the original Black Panther, King Tchalla, worth keeping instead of ushering in Shuri?

Let me repeat, I love, love, love the black male image projected in the film, and I am nowhere near done seeing it. Why you ask? For many reasons. The Black Panther character was raised by his father, who passed away. Too often, the only image we get as minorities is of men not raised by their fathers. Women have been holding up the pillars of the family without a man present and killing at it. We can still honor those men who are there for their children. We need this image badly because the lack of it is hurting our community.

I also loved seeing these women who surrounded the Black Panther character and his interaction with them. The land of Wakanda was not just a Black Utopia, but one for women. King Tchalla's treatment of women was an example of how women everywhere should be treated. Black Panther honored his mother and her wisdom and fed from her strength when he struggled to maintain his position. His sister was respected for her intelligence and given the power to run the technology aspect of Wakanda. Black Panther's most prized security, the Dora Milaje, was composed of only women led by a woman. Yet Black Panther's interaction with them was purely respectful. King Tachalla treated Dora Milaje like the superior warriors. By the way, if you didn't know this already, Dora Milaje is modeled from the real Dahomey Amazons, who existed before pre-colonial times.

Let's not forget Black Panther's love interest. It was beautiful seeing him loving on an intelligent woman with naturally kinky hair in a short afro. Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to bash all the things we as women do to our hair. I've done them all. However, I do have an issue with this idea of bad hair and colorism. That if you want to look beautiful as a woman, you must give up your natural kinky hair by either straightening it or covering it all together, bleach your skin, and act like an idiot. Watching The Black Panther loving on her was dreamy. It wasn't a political statement. Instead, it was just a man attracted to her beauty, intelligence, and spirit. I can't tell you the power of this. I remember the first time I saw this was in Jumping Jack Flash as a child and the man told Whoppie Goldberg she was beautiful. I remember thinking, "Wait, but she is dark and with locs. He wants me to believe he thinks she's beautiful." It was the first time I saw a woman with those features looked at that way, and it troubled me. It took years to realize that it was the image marketers that did this. That beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Not to mention we never even got to explore his relationship with Storm, another strong black female superhero character.

Finally, my goodness, he's not a drug dealer, pimp, or philanderer. That image is a dime a dozen these days. We can't even have a wealthy image without being corrupt and selling drugs. While those shows have their place and are very entertaining, they are not the only images we need to see. There are so few roles like Black Panther for minority men. I can't help but think of the excellent film made by Robert Townsend called Hollywood Shuffle that sheds the spotlight on this problem of the limited positive roles for the thousands of very talented minority actors. Please watch this movie if you haven't.

Now that Chadwick Boseman has died, the question of whether to recast or move on sheds a different light on that article I mentioned earlier. It is possible that the makers of Black Panther were preparing for the possibility of Boseman's death. But if that is true, it also casts a different light on Boseman's thoughts on the matter or retiring Tchalla as Black Panther. We may not know for sure what they knew, but Boseman, for sure, knew he was dying. Likely, he wasn't merely fighting for the ability to keep the role for himself, but that he may have thought it was essential to keep the Tchalla Black Panther going after his death. This role is the most positive and only black male lead in the Marvel universe. We shouldn't be so quick to dispose of it. With that said, it is my deepest hope that they have the largest casting calling possible and keep the Black Panther character alive.

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