By Ethan Rice | Echo
Since its world premiere, Marvel Studios' "Black Panther" has slashed its way through box office records and Hollywood norms.
In 1966, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Marvel's first black superhero: T'Challa, the Black Panther, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Since then, the character maintained a loyal, if low-profile, following among comic fans. But after his big screen debut in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War," the hero was catapulted to international fame.
Now, T'Challa is king of the world-wide box office as his own film rakes in praise from critics and fans alike. The film has also drawn attention as a social landmark for Hollywood, with a majority black cast, 31-year-old director Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station," "Creed") and Director of Photography Rachel Morrison, who this year became the first woman director of photography to receive an Oscar nomination for cinematography.
The film's success has many hoping it will bring lasting change in a film industry that has long been reluctant toward representation and diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
Junior Abby Gonzalez recalls watching the Justice League cartoon as a child, featuring John Stewart, a black architect and Marine, wielding the Green Lantern ring alongside his fellow heroes. She was then disappointed upon the release of the 2011 film starring Ryan Reynolds as a different, white, Green Lantern: Hal Jordan.
"I guess Green Lantern isn't black after all," Gonzalez said. "Representation is important. If the purpose of film is to portray life, we're missing a lot of people, a lot of points of view."
The success of "Black Panther" both as a diverse production and a mold-breaking representation of African culture has many hoping that those days are over.
After seeing the movie, sophomore Brandt Maina described how he appreciated it drawing inspiration from the positive and modern side of Africa, rather than the continent of mud huts so often depicted on the big screen. He especially enjoyed the film's score, and praised actor Winston Duke's performance, which drew heavily on Nigerian speech and mannerisms to portray the isolated rival leader M'Baku.
Taylor film professor Kathy Bruner shone a spotlight on the success story of a young Coogler, whose career has skyrocketed since winning the Sundance Film Festival with "Fruitvale Station" in 2013.
"Coogler has much to say and teach us about race relations in America," Bruner said. "It's such a joy to see that only five years later, he's moved from a small Indie film to a big budget feature. Ideally "Black Panther" will be a turning point for more diverse directors, writers and actors in Hollywood."
Only time will tell if "Black Panther" can launch a new, positive trend in Hollywood, but as it continues to claw through records and all expectations, it gives both artists and audiences reason for hope.