‘Black Panther’: What This Movie Will Do For Marvel

Black Panther - Marvel

Black Panther | Marvel

Marvel’s Black Panther movie is about to hit theaters, and it’s making headlines as an important installment in the franchise. Each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) serves a thematic purpose, from Captain America: Civil War‘s resetting the table for all our heroes, to Doctor Strange‘s journey into the occult. A strong argument can be made that Black Panther‘s purpose is even more profound than either of those though.

So what exactly will it accomplish in an already-accomplished MCU? More than you might think, and for reasons you may very well not expect.

1. Hollywood (still) has a diversity problem, and the solution starts with superhero movies

Chris Rock at the Oscars | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Chris Rock at the Oscars | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Every year, a study surfaces that reminds us that Hollywood is still miles away from solving its issues with diversity. One such study comes from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It pulled no punches in labeling the movie industry as “the epicenter of cultural inequality,” pointing toward the meager 31% of 2015’s highest grossing films that included speaking roles for women (who remember, make up 50% of the population). Things are made even worse by the fact that 17% of those movies didn’t feature a single African-American.

Enter Black Panther. Of the cast, all but two of the primary actors are African-American, and several are women. It’s a first for any superhero movie in the modern era, and coming off the heels of Luke Cage‘s 2016 debut on Netflix, it represents a marked step in a much-needed direction. If Hollywood is truly going to improve its massive problem with representation, it starts with the movies and TV shows that tell us who our heroes are.

2. It will continue to expand the boundaries of the MCU

Wakanda - Black Panther comic from Marvel

Wakanda in Marvel’s Black Panther comics | Marvel

In its early years, the MCU was a decidedly small world (Thor excepted). Even with Asgard established as an alternate kingdom, and even with Guardians of the Galaxy taking us to the outer reaches of space, the primary conflicts of the franchise took place largely on American soil. Avengers: Age of Ultron then took things to Eastern Europe, Captain America: Civil War featured a climax in Russia, and next, Doctor Strange will bring us to other dimensions entirely.

Black Panther will continue to expand the boundaries of the MCU with the fictional nation of Wakanda, a country considered in the comics to be the most advanced in the world. It’s important to establish that our heroes aren’t simply white Americans protecting a single country, especially with the stakes of most conflicts usually involving the rest of the world. Suffice it to say, infusing an African nation into the narrative goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

3. Director Ryan Coogler and his first step into a new universe

Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler | Andrew Goth / Getty Images

After his amazing work on Fruitvale Station and Creed, there’s little reason to doubt Ryan Coogler’s acumen as a director. Hollywood (and more specifically Disney) has developed a habit of bringing in accomplished directors without experience on big-budget tentpole films to handle … well, their big-budget tentpole films. We saw it with Lucasfilm’s hiring of Rian Johnson for Star Wars, and Universal bringing on Colin Trevorrow for Jurassic World. 

Ryan Coogler will be the next in line with Black Panther, bringing his considerable creative insight in tow. Marvel isn’t short on talented directors, but it’s exciting nonetheless when they add another one to the ranks.

4. Tying together the rest of the MCU’s story

Black Panther - Captain America

Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War | Marvel

Captain America: Civil War made sure we were familiar enough with Black Panther‘s title hero leading into his own standalone film. What it also did was show us just how Wakanda plays into the larger fate of Marvel’s stable of characters. Wakanda is now home to a cryogenically frozen Bucky Barnes, holds the world’s largest stores of vibranium (aka the metal Cap’s shield is made of), and has a significant part to play in the future of the MCU as a whole.

As screenwriter Joe Robert Cole told Slash Film, “as Wakanda’s rise to prominence happens, it will affect the MCU moving forward.”

5. A new era for the MCU

Black Panther | Marvel

There are plenty of releases from Marvel to get excited for in the coming years, as can be seen in this breakdown of the company’s cinematic movie universe. However, no title carries more weight and importance than Black Panther does, and because of that, it stands tall as the MCU’s most prominent coming attraction. All we can do now is wait and see if it delivers on its massive potential.

Black Panther is set to hit theaters on Feb. 16, 2018.

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