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Black Panther

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That is the question director Ryan Coogler addresses with the release of Marvel’s Black Panther. Based on the comic-book character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, Black Panther is an anomaly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a predominantly black cast centered on an African superhero, with Coogler being the first African-American director to helm a big-budget film for Marvel Studios.

Indeed, while Black Panther is a comicbook movie, Coogler flips the script by using the fictional landscape to tackle weighty themes existing within the African diaspora in real life. In this age of Black Lives Matter, where black bodies are literal targets, Coogler reclaims the narrative by portraying blackness as purposeful and powerful. In the film, characters are splendidly adorned in an Afrofuturistic fantasy, with an array of African-print robes and dresses. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Letitia Wright are the powerful women who lead Coogler’s charge to challenge Eurocentric notions of beauty foisted on us by Hollywood and the media. Rarely have we seen this many black women in heroic roles within the superhero movie genre.

Coogler also digs deeper by showcasing characters who are less than perfect. With Killmonger (played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan), Coogler brings to the screen what might be the MCU’s most layered villain. The rivalry between Killmonger and T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), isn’t fueled by just a fight for power, but by the complicated relationship between Africans and their estranged African-American cousins.

When a technologically advanced nation like Wakanda has gone untouched by European imperialism and the transatlantic slave trade, what responsibility do its people have to their African brothers and sisters who were snatched and sold as chattel? A lesser narrative would try to keep the nation in a utopian bubble, but Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole gut-punch the audience with a painful family secret between Black Panther’s Wakanda-dwelling father, T’Chaka, and Killmonger’s America-bound father that expands the conversation.

Black Panther serves as a cautionary tale that freedom obtained by replicating systems of oppression does not liberate us but rather further enslaves us. Humanity working together to break the cycle — that is the path to true freedom.

“Black Panther” scored $111.7 million at the North American box office in its second week according to final studio figures Monday, putting Ryan Coogler’s Marvel sensation on a trajectory that could ultimately land it among the highest grossing films.

Disney again revised up the weekend performance of “Black Panther,” after estimating that it grossed $108 million on Sunday. The strong second week sales pushed the film’s cumulative domestic gross past $400 million and its worldwide haul above $700 million.

“Black Panther” easily trounced new releases. The Warner Bros.-New Line comedy “Game Night,” starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, debuted with $17 million. Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller “Annihilation,” starring Natalie Portman, opened with $11.1 million on about 2,000 screens.

Paramount earlier sold the international rights (except in China) for “Annihilation” to Netflix after disappointing reactions in test screenings. Though the film received largely good reviews, opening weekend audiences gave it a poor “C’’ CinemaScore.

Black History Month unveiled the long-awaited movie release of “Black Panther,” a project of Disney’s Marvel Studios. Released over the President’s Day weekend, the movie has grossed an estimated $700 million in global ticket sales in its first 12 days in theaters, and is on track to potentially hit the billion-dollar mark before it closes. The movie’s $242 million opening over the holiday weekend was the second-biggest debut ever, beating out “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in four-day sales. Pre-sales for the movie were record-breaking, surpassing all prior Marvel movies for Fandango and IMAX movie services. Directed by Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”), “Black Panther” is also about to become the highest-grossing film made by an African American.

The movie’s release comes after a long history of overtly white representation in the nominees and winners at the Oscars. And the movie has precipitated a movement within the African American community as moviegoers adorn themselves with indigenous African clothing, celebrate the movie’s characters, and even register people to vote before and after screenings.

The fictional superhero Black Panther, or T’Challa, is a king and ruler of the imagined “Wakanda,” an African country, whose land is rich with extraordinary resources like the metal Vibranium and the heart-shaped herb responsible for his enhanced powers. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics in 1966, T’Challa is proficient in science, has rigorous physical abilities, and has amassed access to wealth and advanced technology to take down his enemies. Without presenting any spoilers, the latest Black Panther storyline dives into topics of race, addresses the cultural heterogeneity among people of African descent, and highlights the strengths of black women, who are depicted as queens, warriors, and scientists in the film. With a predominantly black cast, the movie also deconstructs stereotypes of men of color, families, and communities, deviating from what is often depicted in mainstream media.

The latter point is particularly important because it defies the age-old myths haunting black creators and their films that diversity in media is both unprofitable and impossible.

In 2016, the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign forced Hollywood to revisit the issue of representation of diversity on screen, among movies producers and directors, and within the review board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. According to research from the University of Southern California, African Americans represented 13.6 percent of characters in major film projects, compared to 70.8 percent of white characters in 2017. African American directors were also sparsely reflected at just 5.6 percent when compared to their peers that same year.

The Academy acted quickly to change this narrative through strategic and systematic efforts, some of which are showing up in this year’s Oscar nominations. Jordan Peele, the African American director of the movie “Get Out” is nominated for best director, best original screenplay, and best picture. In 2017, “Get Out” became the the highest grossing debut film based on an original screenplay, bringing in $255 million worldwide to date. Dee Rees’s “Mudbound,” supported and distributed by Netflix, has become the first film to have an African American female nominated for best adapted screenplay, and a range of other nominations, ranging from best supporting actress to best original song in 2018.

While Disney will definitely recoup Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget (plus $150 million spent on publicity) for “Black Panther,” the company will also benefit from its gamble on a predominantly black cast, which the broader motion picture industry has historically shied away from and global audiences have rarely supported. In the U.S., opening weekend ticket sales were largely attributed to diverse audiences: 37 percent of moviegoers were African American, followed by 35 percent white, and 18 percent Hispanic. Contrary to beliefs about black films, “Black Panther” has been well received and quite profitable overseas too, with openings still scheduled abroad.