Several weeks ago, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon invited African-American fans of the new film Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, to record their appreciation for the star of the movie, Chadwick Boseman. After each fan shared her or his feelings about the film, Boseman surprised the fan by stepping out from behind a curtain. The fans were overcome with tears of joy and excitement, and now that I’ve seen the movie, I understand why.
The film takes place in the African land of Wakanda, a hidden country filled with beautiful landscapes and unbelievably advanced technology. When Wakanda’s king T’chaka (Atandwa Kani) is murdered by villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who is greedy for Wakanda’s powerful weapons, his son, Prince T’challa (Boseman), claims his spot as king and is given the superpowers of the Black Panther.
One of the things that makes Black Panther so unique is that it does not follow the typical story line of a superhero movie. Rather than having a distinct set of “good guys” and “bad guys,” Black Panther is filled with complex emotional characters with interwoven backgrounds who are forced to make complex decisions throughout the film. It’s funny, enthralling, and full of dramatic surprises.
Possibly more important than the brilliant plotline and humor is the way in which Black Panther is a new, different, and extremely empowering film which depicts a variety of African cultures and ethnicities and includes strong, independent female roles. For Hollywood, Black Panther is a long overdue representation of ethnic and gender diversity. The king’s army is made up entirely of women, led by the fierce Okoye (Danai Gurira). When King T’Challa jokes with the great warrior (and his ex-girlfriend) Nakia (Oscar-winner Lupita N’yongo) that if she were not so stubborn she would make an excellent queen, she responds, “I would make a great queen because I am stubborn—if that’s what I wanted.” This is a film that was made not only to sell tickets, although it has already sold more tickets than any other Marvel movie, but also to send a powerful message that women and people of color can be heroic.
One of the women who Jimmy Fallon invited to give thanks to Chadwick Boseman said, “Words can’t even describe what this movie has meant to me and to other black people … I want to take a moment to thank the black women [in the film] too, because they were so strong on their own terms and answered to no one but themselves. I think it was so important that they weren’t strong because they were angry, they weren’t strong because they were hurt, they were strong because they were strong, and that meant the world to me.”
Black Panther has had a significant impact on the lives of so many Americans, especially people of color, as it has encouraged them to be strong and independent like the warriors of Wakanda. It has also sent a message to America as a whole. In Black Panther, women are inventors, scientists, soldiers, and the rulers of the most technologically advanced nation in the world. As a Jewish girl, I felt particularly influenced by Black Panther because I saw women and minorities in positions of power, and for me, the film has significantly expanded the definition of what it means to be a true hero.