EDITORIAL: The Black Panther in the MCU
CBMer Yossarian tells you why you won't be seeing him anytime soon.
When Marvel introduced its Phase Two movie line up many, myself included, were shocked to learn there were no plans for a Black Panther movie. There were plenty of rumors regarding the character, and it seemed natural and logical to bring T’Challa, Wakanda, advanced technology and all of the vibranium the MCU needed into the fold. However, Marvel apparently opted for The Guardians of the Galaxy instead.
According to Marvel Studios co-president Louis D'Esposito, the reasoning for the decision is, “T’Challa has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values. But the movie might be difficult to pull off, he said, because of having to create Wakanda from the ground up. It’s always easier basing it here. For instance, ‘Iron Man 3’ is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you’re always faced with those difficulties.”
Simply looking at Phase One and the announced Phase Two films shows his statement is suspicious at best. They created Asgard, India, WWII, South America and a tiny town in the middle of the desert. Surely creating Wakanda is possible.
Initially I reasoned that the real motive for the decision is that if Marvel made a superhero team up movie in space, they would beat DC to the punch before a Justice League film. It makes sense strategically. If Marvel wants to bring in their cosmic characters, it’s best they do it before a Justice League movie is made, because the Justice League is almost guaranteed to set the box office ablaze. By simply doing it first, they can move freely from there as well as limiting what DC/WB can do and not be seen as copying Marvel.
However, I doubt that is all there is to it. After thinking about their decision, I believe the reason to not make a Black Panther movie, is Black Panther himself; or rather, Marvel Studio's inability to handle him properly.
Before we go any further, I feel it is important to quickly recap the current heroes within the MCU.
Iron Man – White guy
Thor – Blonde white guy
Captain America – Blonde white guy
Bruce Banner/Hulk – White guy…or green
Hawkeye – Blondish white guy
Black Widow – White woman
Ant-Man – Blonde white guy
James Rhodes/War Machine – Black guy sidekick
Nick Fury – Black guy with no real super powers
Sam Wilson/Falcon (rumored) – Black guy sidekick
On Asgard, Heimdall is watching everything in the universe and he glances down to Midgard thinking, “Where are all of the black people?”
Black Panther’s origin is classic and timely. The character is deep and interesting. The setting is rich and beautiful. Yet despite all of that, it simply isn’t possible to pull off. If Marvel chose to make Black Panther its first cinematic black hero they have to overcome the character.
T’Challa is a young Prince in fictional Wakanda in Africa. The king of Wakanda rules over all of the tribes of Wakanda and earns the title of “Black Panther” by completing trials and is then given an herb to eat which connects the King to the Wakandan Panther God as well as grants him superhuman abilities.
The story goes that T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father and the King, “Black Panther” of Wakanda) is a benevolent ruler of an isolated African nation and has his country invaded by a white man, Ulysses Klaw, who is backed by an all-white faction of the Catholic Church, in an attempt to plunder Wakanda of its Vibranium resource. T’Chaka is killed and T’Challa injures Klaw forcing Klaw to flee and allowing T’Challa to escape the country and go on his rite of passage walkabout so that he can go through the trials and become the Black Panther. T’Challa returns to Wakanda and rules his nation.
T’Challa’s walkabout and trials include him defeating the champions of various African tribes, all of which have animal personas.
Recently, the cartoons tell the story that T’Chaka is usurped by a rival tribe known as the Jabari. The Jabari Tribe used the aid of M’Baku to overthrow T’Chaka. M’Baku was the second greatest warrior in Wakanda yet he had a lust for power. M’Baku then journeys to the White Gorilla Cult where he passes trials and is allowed to bathe in gorilla blood and eat gorilla flesh, which grant him superhuman powers, and he takes on the persona of, “Man-Ape.”
After the take-over, T’Challa goes on his trials and returns as Black Panther to Wakanda where the civilization is in disarray. T’Challa bests M’Baku and takes the thrown and returns Wakanda to the isolated prosperous African Nation.
Would Marvel want to introduce its first black hero this way? No.
First of all, they would establish that in the MCU, Africa consists of animal worshiping black people who establish their government leaders through warrior trials and each takes on not only the animal persona, but the animalistic attributes as well.
That is pure American prejudice applied to a continent and its people. Marvel makes light-hearted superhero films for the family. I doubt they want the possibility that people would discern the message that within the MCU, Africa consists of black people who are barbaric animals.
Second of all, if they introduce T’Challa without a proper origin story, the character is castrated of his heart and compassion and his ability to rule a nation as a benevolent and loved king.
It is simply degrading to the character to introduce him without the majesty of his origin. Also, the breadth and importance of the social issues the movie would cover wouldn’t fit into the tone of the MCU without diluting the importance of T’Challa.
Lastly, and sadly, the market likely isn’t there. Some people still don’t like that Nick Fury is black. Some people are upset that Heimdall is black. But most important to the point, is that unless Marvel has the director, producers, writers and actors in-line who all have the ability to make it perfect, a Black Panther film would simply be seen as the token attempt at diversity.
If the film is not perfect, in every way, it degrades the MCU and runs the possibility as being interpreted as pure racism. Although Black Panther is an amazing and rich character, there are safer black characters which are easier to introduce into the MCU.
I know that for 40 years the comics pulled it off, but therein lies the problem. For those 40 years the comics are able to weave a tapestry which is respectful and interesting. Every month, for 40 years, the readers could see the character for who he is, come to know T’Challa and understand the world he lives in.
I believe that the subject matter is too delicate for an hour and a half superhero movie. I hope I am wrong, and I deeply hope they find the right people to make the perfect Black Panther film.
Perhaps I am being too sensitive. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, and I know we are talking about comic book movies. But, in a way, Marvel Comics were social commentary; and as needed and as socially relevant as a Black Panther movie would be – the ramifications of mishandling the character are too great a risk.
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