Now that we’re nearly weeks into its release, let’s put the success of Black Panther into perspective.
Those of y’all who clogged theater lobbies taking group pictures while donning geles and kente cloth helped shoot the film north of $200 million on its opening weekend. It’s the biggest opening ever for a black director (Ryan Coogler). It’s $520 million first-week take put it ahead of the original Avengers film.
Panther is one of only four movies to ever make more than $100 million in its second weekend, coming in just behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens and ahead of Jurassic World. It set the record for highest ticket presale of any superhero film and is currently the best-reviewed superhero film of all time, sitting with a 97 percent at Rotten Tomatoes.
It has already dusted each one of the exercises in aggressive mediocrity that are the DC Extended Universe films, save for the beloved white feminism vehicle Wonder Woman, which made nearly $822 million globally and is about to be unseated by Panther as the highest-grossing superhero origin story of all time.
As of the Feb. 26 writing of this piece, Panther has grossed more than $700 million globally. Barring Trump successfully kicking off World War III in the next few weeks, Black Panther will achieve $1 billion worldwide.
Analysts far and wide will be mulling for a while over how a black-directed superhero film with a predominantly black cast that oozes blackness in every scene put up Pablo Escobar numbers, coming in second only to the ridiculously long-awaited return of Star Wars, arguably the most beloved movie franchise of all time. Forbes writes, “Even with Avengers: Infinity War coming in less than three months, Black Panther still enticed fans to come out in record-breaking droves thanks to its savvy marketing, rave reviews and promise to shake up the well-worn superhero movie formula.”
Hold my beer as I break that down: Black Panther is murdering everything right now thanks to three words: Black girl magic.
By virtue of being a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Panther was always going to put up good numbers. But for an “origin” film that features only one previously seen Marvel character not connected to the world of Wakanda (Winter Soldier, and only in an end-credits scene), it didn’t have the marketing benefit of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans or Scarlet Johansson.
Everyone involved in the Black Panther marketing machine, from Coogler on down, knew exactly what they were doing: from the cast to the writing to trailers to the red-carpet premiere, the film called out to black women. And they answered to the tune of cash registers going “ching!”
The marketing – and the movie itself – emphasized the Dora Milaje, the bad-ass all-black-woman royal guard headed up by Danai Gurira, co-star of the perennially popular The Walking Dead show. There’s the ageless Angela Bassett as a matriarch who likely draws in older audiences who might otherwise stay away from a comic book film. There’s the gorgeous Lupita N’yongo – whom we already loved but who likely gained more white fans after she spoke out against Harvey Weinstein – playing a secret agent type who uses her brains and knuckles to solve her problems, all while draped in stunning couture. She can be the queen of Wakanda if she likes, but she might not want to.
Perhaps the most revelatory and important character belongs to Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who basically stole every scene she was in as T’Challa’s brainy little sister ( and, in the comics, the eventual Black Panther). Shuri is probably the best advertisement for black women and STEM ever committed to celluloid. Her “colonizer” and “broken white boy” comments brought houses down and are absolutely fucking wild when you consider they were written for one of the biggest and most mainstream film franchises in history.
Of course, there’s also the cast of male actors, a who’s-who of black woman adoration and all free of Nate Parker-esque moral complications. Tobagonian actor Winston Duke as M’Baku has led to a lot of interesting declarations from women about the state of their panties on my Twitter feed. Even Killmonger, arguably the film’s most complicated character and the subject of no less than 34,726,402 think pieces, has the benefit of being played by Michael “Bae” Jordan with a bare (albeit scarred) chest and enough redeeming moral qualities to overlook the fact that he wasn’t very kind to sistas in the film.
Basically, Panther contains every element to attract even the superhero-film-shunning sistas: black women with physical might, intellectual acumen and personal agency, along with male eye candy, dope fashions and not an ounce of relaxer on set.
Don’t get me wrong – if the movie was a sausage fest, with Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa going against Killmonger and a couple white guys with M’Baku thrown somewhere in the mix, there’d still be hype about the MCU’s first black-led superhero film. But I’ve no doubt that the secret sauce is connected to the fact that T’Challa would’ve been dead by the second act without all the black women helping him. Black girls of all ages watching themselves depicted on screen as Panther allows is alone worth the repeated views that so many of us have given the film.
Hollywood has seen the power of the black woman’s dollar before: Tyler Perry built an empire and a $600-plus million fortune tapping into the black Christian demographic to a degree no one had accomplished before. Of course, Perry came to fame with reductive and offensive depictions of black women that probably wouldn’t have gotten him far had Twitter been as influential during his ascent. The women in Panther are basically the anti-Tyler Perry trope, which is why educators should feel comfortable taking their young black students to see the film.
In the last year, we’ve seen black films (not involving slavery) get both critical and awards success (Moonlight) and now financial success with Black Panther. Black women are amped to see more positive depictions of themselves on screen, and if I were a studio head, I’d be capitalizing on this cultural moment. Ira Madison III had a great suggestion that it might be time for a standalone film for the X-Men’s Storm. Maybe that film could crossover with the Panther storyline, since Ororo Munroe and T’Challa are married for a time in the comics.
Someone much wiser than me (The great Offset from Migos) once suggested that men go where their women go. Get them on board, and we will follow. I think something resembling the runaway success of Panther can happen again, as long as the people running shit listen to black women. Because if The Man doesn’t care about anything else, they still care about that mean green.
Take note, colonizers.