If you’ve happened to scroll my Twitter feed within the last few days, you’ll notice how excited I was when Marvel Studios dropped the first teaser trailer for their upcoming film, Black Panther.
And I’m not the only one who’s excited. A twitter search for the phrase “black panther” provides a joyous collection of memes, gifs, and all-around nerding out in anticipation of this movie’s release. The consensus seems to be that the only negative feelings attached to this movie is the fact that we have to wait until February 2018 to see it. Just over two days after its debut, the trailer on Marvel’s YouTube page has over 16.7 million views. It all begs the question—what makes this addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so anticipated?
Let’s start with the obvious: what Marvel is doing with Black Panther is nothing short of historic. It is the first major studio superhero film with a $100 million+ budget that features both a majority black cast and a black director (Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coolgler). The titular character made his first appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and was an immediate fan favorite, with audiences knowing that a solo movie was soon to follow. There’s a lot to unpack in the relatively short teaser, but what stands out the most are the first shots we see of Wakanda, the fictional African nation from which the Black Panther (or T’Challa, his given name) originates. The trailer starts with two men discussing what’s known about the country; common knowledge in this universe seems to be that Wakanda is your run-of-the-mill northeast African nation that’s best known for “textiles [and] cool outfits,” as Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross says. Cut to Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue informing Ross that in actuality, Wakanda puts on a front for the rest of the world in order to hide its affluence and advancement. Nowhere is this idea more striking than when we see T’Challa in the beginning of the trailer greeting his fellow countrymen:
This is what’s at the core of the feverish reaction to the trailer. The juxtaposition of the traditional western ideas of what identifies an African country (tribal wardrobes, exotic landscapes, impoverished communities) with a new paradigm—that Africa is actually home to the most advanced nation on Earth (which, according to comic book lore Wakanda is). You’ll hear the word “afro-futurist” thrown around in the coming months with regards to this movie. We get a clear view of that with the imagery of this trailer; the idea that a technologically and scientifically advanced nature can be based around African tradition instead of every city in the future looking like a dingier version of Chicago. It also taps into the stereotype of African countries all being rural areas with starving children and no running water. There is certainly poverty in Africa, but there are also plenty of diverse cities with booming economies. Black Panther has the potential to make people subconsciously re-think their views on how progressive and modern Africa is.
The other exciting factor is, of course, the cast. And what a cast it is. Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed, Friday Night Lights), Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner), Angela Bassett (legend), Forest Whitaker (Oscar winner and legend), and more. This is an all-star team of black Hollywood excellence, and even though we’ve known these actors would be in this movie for months, there was something thrilling about seeing them on screen for the first time, even in a preview. There’s a subtext here about the excitement that comes from seeing black actors portraying African roles in a major film, and how African-Americans have generationally sought a connection to the African continent. I’m not smart enough to write that article, so I’ll just say how awesome it is to see traditional African wardrobe so prominently displayed in the teaser, courtesy of costume designer Ruth Elaine Carter:
I already can’t wait for the next trailer. Marvel has a certified hit on its hands, as audiences worldwide will get a chance to a new type of superhero movie. See you all in February, and happy Black History Month in advance.