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.
“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!"
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