‘Black Panther’: Having a Black Superhero Wasn’t All that Made the MCU Film So Successful

Black Panther is not only one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s most successful films, but one of the most successful movies of all time of any sort. In a major milestone, it became the first superhero movie to get a Best Picture nominee. There has been some thought that was because it was Marvel’s first film to feature a black hero in the lead. 

However, Marvel fans say that’s hardly the only factor. And while one can argue that the spotlight on a black hero was a major driver of the movie’s success, one of Marvel’s African-American stars argues the representation still isn’t good enough. 

How successful was ‘Black Panther?’

Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman | Lamparski/WireImage

Before Black Panther came out two years ago,  prognosticators thought the movie would be a success because most every movie Marvel has been. But they weren’t sure how successful. The movie came out in February, and that time slot was a first for Marvel. Most blockbuster franchise movies don’t come out that early.

But the movie exploded immediately. According to The Numbers, it made $202 million it’s opening weekend, and it had legs for many, many days, ultimately grossing $700 million in the US alone.

That made it Marvel’s most successful solo movie, and their second-biggest domestic hit in the US, with Avengers: Endgame ultimately topping it. That total also made it the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time, behind The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame and Avatar

On top of all that, reviews were stellar, with the movie pulling a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated MCU movie The Best Picture Oscar that year went to Green Book, but Black Panther did win the Best Ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild in 2019. Honors abouded. 

What else made ‘Black Panther’ successful? 

RELATED: Marvel: Anthony Mackie Is ‘Bothered’ by the Franchise’s Lack of Diversity Outside of ‘Black Panther’

To hear some fans tell it, the black in Black Panther wasn’t the only reason for its success. That’s easy enough to argue, but a fan on Reddit said its success goes far beyond having a black hero in the lead. The fan wrote: 

“No, Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero movie. It is, however, the first movie with a predominantly black cast that does not 1) portray black people or African culture in a stereotypical light, 2) heavily rely on predictable and overused tropes (virtually every Tyler Perry movie), 3) focus on slavery in the U.S., and 4) center around the pursuits of violent R-rated anti-heroes in the rough streets of inner-cities (your Spawns and Blades). Since the release of Hancock in 2008, it took a decade until the release of another superhero movie with a single black lead.”

Most fans agreed with the assessment, although a few fans do think the movie is overrated, with one fan saying it has the same problem as the Batman/Dark Knight movies directed by Christopher Nolan: the hero is the least interesting part of the story.

Many have praised the film’s villain, Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, as one of Marvel’s best, because he has a legitimate reason to feel aggrieved. 

The Falcon says Marvel hasn’t done enough

While nothing succeeds like success, Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam/Falcon in the MCU movies, says that the studio he works for shouldn’t get a pass just because one movie was a groundbreaking success. In a Variety conversation with Daveed Diggs, as reported by The AV Club, Mackie said

“We’ve had one Black producer; his name was Nate Moore. He produced Black Panther. But then when you do Black Panther, you have a Black director, Black producer, a Black costume designer, a Black stunt choreographer. And I’m like, that’s more racist than anything else. Because if you only can hire the Black people for the Black movie, are you saying they’re not good enough when you have a mostly white cast?”

Marvel’s defenders would say that the studio is making strides towards other representation, with its next two films, Black Widow and The Eternals, having female solo directors. Even then, it’s still catching up to DC, where Patty Jenkins has made two Wonder Woman movies. Mackie’s remarks will spawn a lot of debate, but Marvel, like a great many other entities, still has work to do.