Comic book movies are here to stay, and the world is better for it.
Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” recently made history as the first comic book movie ever to receive an Academy nomination for Best Picture, as well as nominations for awards in six other categories.
At the Golden Globes, “Black Panther” was nominated for three categories, including Best Picture.
Comic book, superhero and antihero movies have been around for decades and have received millions in studio funding that has translated into billions of dollars at the box office.
All this had ever amounted to at self-promoting Hollywood award committees, such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes, were nominations for categories like Best Sound Mixing, Best Special Effects or Best Hair and Makeup.
The writing and narratives of the stories were long overlooked — all critics could afford to award comic book films were pats on the back for the copious amounts of detail in the visual and audio effects employed in these super adventures.
Why are the critics and film academies now changing their tone?
“Black Panther” is the first superhero movie taken seriously by the Academy and the Golden Globes for Best Picture because its effect was amplified by its conventional differences from normal superhero films.
Because the film featured an African hero from an African nation, every aspect of the film was altered in order to enforce this.
This includes the costume design, the film’s score, the script’s conventional phraseology and many more detail oriented aspects of the film one normally would not notice, had the style not been so incredibly outside what one typically expects from a Hollywood superhero movie.
The love from the public for comic book movies is simply too great to ignore any longer. Aside from the billions of dollars studios have raked in because of them, comic book movies have become bulwarks for common decency, helping Americans overcome some of the most challenging issues of the age.
In a country split in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and fears of increasing tensions between ethnic groups, a film was able to bring most of the country together to celebrate and prop up an African superhero.
In the movie, T’challa, who is the king of Wakanda and the Black Panther, is forced to question the justice of punishing people for the unquestionable injustice of their ancestors.
Throughout a painful journey, this king learned that perseverance in sacrificing for that which he loved was the only way to be a noble leader for his people and an authentic hero for his world.
T’challa found that it was not his place to exact revenge for marginalized peoples, but to ensure that he did everything he could in the present to protect those who would otherwise be taken advantage of. In a broken world, marred by the sins of our ancestors, the true hero takes it upon themself to sacrifice themselves for the most vulnerable.
These themes are profound and deeply affecting to audiences. Comic book movies are no more solely for entertainment than a flag’s purpose is solely to flap in the wind. They help center our moral judgment and signal to us what actions are truly good.
However, similar themes can be found in many other comic book films such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” or “The Dark Knight Rises.”
What, then, sets “Black Panther” apart?
To put it simply, “Black Panther” is just different. It is not different because it calls us to view heroism any differently than most comic book films. It is different because the messenger of that traditional theme is, well, untraditional.
“Black Panther” shows that anyone, no matter what race, nationality or family baggage they may have, can be a superhero in the mold of every hero we have come to love.
“Black Panther” is tangible proof that we, as a society, have accepted a gospel of openness that charges us to expect great things from everyone, no matter where they came from.