Anyone who’s paid the slightest bit of attention to superhero movies over the past decade knows there hasn’t been a wildfire of excitement quite like that sparked by director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. And it’s fair to say that the reason for that is because there’s never been a movie — superhero or otherwise — quite like Black Panther, a vibrant, melanin-infused cocktail of superhero fantasy, black cinema, social commentary, action and Afrofuturism.
Local comic-book writer of The Burning Metronome, podcast host and musician R. Alan Brooks was first introduced to Black Panther in the ’80s, when, as a boy, he played with action figures of Sun-Man, an equally muscle-bound black alternative to the golden-haired He-Man.
Brooks notes that back then, the character T’Challa wasn’t “well-defined, but had a lot of potential.” It wasn’t until the ’90s, with comic-book writer Christopher Priest and in the early aughts, with Reginald Hudlin, that the King of Wakanda found his stride.
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“It’s unheard of,” Brooks says about the release of Black Panther. “You’re compelled by the character. He’s intelligent, well-developed, powerful, unapologetically black. Usually, the only black images you see in the media are presented by non-black people. There’s a fascination with black violence.”
It’s Brooks’s hope that audiences will “recognize what it means to have a fully developed black character, that movie creators no longer feel they need a reason to have an all-black cast.”
Brooks wants to see Black Panther churn up interest in Afrofuturism, a multimedia genre that explores sci-fi and fantasy stories driven by black experience — a genre absent from most movies, books, TV shows and the like, where black characters are too often relegated to be sidekicks — and often not even that.
If the Friday release of Black Panther captures the public's imagination, as Brooks hopes, the result will be simple: “Black narratives will be seen as human narratives. Bam!"