How Chadwick Boseman and the Cast of ‘Black Panther’ Changed the Film Industry Forever
Fans of Chadwick Boseman are still in shock after it was announced that he died from cancer on Aug. 28, 2020. The talented actor had privately been receiving treatment for the disease for several years but had opted not to let the public know about his condition, despite intense speculation about his health.
Known primarily for playing the role of T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther franchise, Boseman played an integral role in changing the landscape of the film industry forever. Black Panther was a film that redefined the space that Black actors and actresses could hold in the movie business, and proved to the world that a predominantly Black cast could indeed carry a franchise.
Hollywood films have historically lacked equal representation
Since its creation, the film industry has lacked diversity when it comes to casting roles for major motion pictures. Traditionally, roles in mainstream, big-budget flicks have been reserved for white male actors, and many of Hollywood’s classic film franchises reflect this. This truth spans decades; from The Godfather to Die Hard, Jurassic Park to The Lord of the Rings, there have historically been few film franchises that provided a diverse cast for viewers. In fact, in 2011, people of color made up just 10.5% of leads, according to Variety.
Some viewers may argue that because America is a country whose demographics are predominantly white (76%, according to the last census), casting directors choose predominantly white casts in order to produce films that are more relatable and thus more likely to be financially successful; however, this theory is incorrect. According to The Guardian, a study performed by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) proved that films with a more diverse cast performed better at the box office than those that did not.
Furthermore, the “whitewashing” of Hollywood films—a practice in which white actors are cast for non-white roles—has been a longstanding issue that continues today. Biblical films such as Noah have frequently featured all-white casts, despite the fact that there is no historical context that proves the characters in the story were white.
‘Black Panther’ was the first superhero movie with a predominantly Black cast
2018’s Black Panther broke the mold for Hollywood franchises for several reasons; before the film came out there, there had been few Black superheroes within the Marvel universe that had received their own film franchise. Black Panther was also an anomaly due to the fact that the majority of its cast was Black, a fact that continues to be a rarity today.
Boseman’s ability to perform the role of T’Challa in the film proved to Hollywood casting directors, executives, and views alike that Black actors have the talent and profile to carry lead roles in major film franchises. Film lovers that had any doubts about whether or not a majority Black cast was bankable were quickly proven wrong; Black Panther went on to become one of the most successful films of 2018, grossing $1.3 billion according to Box Office Mojo.
The success of Black Panther has kicked down the door for more conversations about diversity and equal representation in Hollywood films, whether they be superhero franchises or not. It’s clear that the ethnic makeup of a cast does not matter; if the story is good and the actors are talented, the film has a chance to be successful.
Hopefully, as fans continue to celebrate the life of Chadwick Boseman, the work that he and his Black Panther castmates did will continue to push the boundaries of the entertainment industry.