Marvel’s latest superhero film “Black Panther” hit theaters last week, opening to a $242.1 million four day weekend domestic box office total and rave reviews.
The film broke multiple box office records including the best February opening, beating 2016’s “Deadpool” which opened at $152 million. It has the biggest opening weekend for a non-sequel, biggest solo superhero film opening and the biggest opening for a film debuting on a long weekend.
It sits at a 97 percent rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, one of the highest for a superhero film.
It has also become the highest grossing movie directed by a black filmmaker in North America.
Ryan Coogler, the writer and director of the film, is also known for writing and directing “Creed,” a successful spin off of the Rocky Balboa franchise starring Michael B. Jordan as Apollo Creed’s son.
Jordan, who coincidentally played the Human Torch in the 2016 Fantastic Four reboot, now plays the villain of “Black Panther,” Erik “Killmonger” Stevens.
Chadwick Boseman, whose previous roles include playing James Brown in “Get On Up,” Jackie Robinson in “42” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall,” plays the title character in the film, T’Challa.
Boseman had wanted to play the role for years, even keeping journal entries about it in 2012. He was Marvel Studios’ first choice for the role, and Coogler stated that it was “perfect casting” in a recent Rolling Stone article.
The film takes place in the fictitious African country of Wakanda, a nation with greatly advanced technology that is shut off from the rest of the world. It is full of Vibranium, which is one of the most powerful elements in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It makes up the country’s technology, including the Black Panther suit and the shield of Captain America.
Vibranium enhanced weapons are more powerful than anything Earth’s military has; the medical advances can make life threatening injuries go away with no side effects and can create armor that can withstand bullets. The only country in the world that knows of it is Wakanda, and the five tribes that populate the nation would like to keep it that way.
In the beginning of the film, T’Challa takes the mantle of the Black Panther as well as the position of king of Wakanda following the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” He faces opposition to his reign and has to make many difficult choices.
A central conflict of the movie is the major decision T’Challa has to make: Does he break tradition and use the country’s advanced technologies to help those less fortunate in the world and risk the safety of his people? Or does he continue focusing only on his nation and continuing the legacy of his father, T’Chaka, while others suffer around the world?
Helping him on his journey is the head of research, who is also his sister, Shuri, played by Letitia White, and their mother Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett. His ex-girlfriend and formidable agent Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, and the general to his army and the fiercest fighter in Wakanda Okoye, played by Danai Gurira are also integral parts of his team.
Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Forest Whitaker round out the rest of the cast. Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman star in the film as well, reprising their roles from previous Marvel movies.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar curated and produced 14 songs for the film, which appeared on “Black Panther: The Album.” Multiple artists are featured on the album such as SZA, The Weeknd, Future, 2 Chainz and Khalid.
Coogler personally chose Lamar to curate the album due to the fact that his “artistic themes align with those we explore in the film,” according to an interview with Collider.
The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 154,000 copies in its first week. Eight songs from it also earned spots on the Billboard Hot 100.
The film had plenty of buzz before release as well. It has the fourth highest presale tickets sold, making it the highest selling comic book film in that category. The only movies above it are the three most recent installments of “Star Wars.”
The film became a cultural event on social media. . Fans on Twitter highlighted the authentic African outfits they planned to wear to the film. Celebrities, athletes and school districts across the country bought out screenings of the film so that young black children would be able to see it.
Before its release, the hashtag “WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe” started trending, with many users celebrating the representation of several different African countries and actors on film as powerful, inspiring characters.
Stars Boseman and Jordan explained the significance of the film in interviews with CNN:
“…I knew it was an opportunity to pull from real things, real achievements, real African culture and place it in this movie to make it real,” Boseman said.
“It’s humbling and very surreal that this is a major introduction, almost a reintroduction of black fantasy, sci-fi, mythology, for the generation growing up,” Jordan said.
There have been previous superhero films starring black actors and crews, namely “Blade,” “Spawn” and “Hancock.” Yet they mostly focused on America, and earned subpar reviews and box office numbers.
Due to this, “Black Panther” is seen by many as more than just a superhero film. They see it as a celebration and representation of African heritage in Hollywood that could lead to more prominent big budget blockbusters featuring a mostly black cast and crew.
Following the film’s release, Coogler tweeted a letter of appreciation to all the people who saw the film, thanking them for its success.
“Thank you for giving our team of filmmakers the greatest gift: The opportunity to share this film, that we poured our hearts and souls into, with you.”