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In ‘Black Panther,’ an African superhero shatters the Hollywood status quo

"Black Panther" isn't just a big-budget action movie getting rave reviews; it's a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Unlike other movies in the Marvel universe, it has an African superhero, a majority-black cast and an African-American director. Jeffrey Brown reports on the many ways the movie, which debuts Friday, is generating excitement and inspiration.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, a major moment for comic book movie fans and diversity in Hollywood.

    The highly anticipated film “Black Panther” is opening to eager moviegoers all over the country this weekend. Yes, it is a mega-blockbuster superhero flick, but, as Jeffrey Brown explains, the interest around it goes well beyond that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It’s a film that arrives as a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.

    As with other movies in the marvel comics universe, the superhero here, a king named T’Challa and known as Black Panther, holds the fate of the world. But unlike the others, this big-budget action movie has an African superhero, a majority black cast, and is helmed by an African-American director, 31-year-old Ryan Coogler.

  • Ryan Coogler:

    We got the fact that he is African. Like, that’s the thing that makes him unique. So, when you start talking about performance and things that are important to him, the things that you want to highlight, things that you want to make sure are coming across clear to the audience, you know, that was kind of like our grounding theme.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Social media has exploded with anticipation. Children are in costume, and fans are ready to go.


  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Jesse Holland, is author of “Who Is the Black Panther?”, released in conjunction with the film.

    He’s a longtime comics junkie who writes about race and ethnicity for the AP.

  • Jesse Holland:

    This movie puts people of color in the forefront. The main character is a person of color. The majority of the cast are people of color. So, we’re finally getting to see the diversity of America reflected back to us on screen.

    And, you know, people and children of color can go see a superhero film now where the hero looks just like them.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The original Black Panther, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, two white men, dates to 1966, amid the civil rights era.

  • Jesse Holland:

    Amazingly enough, the character of the Black Panther came before the Black Panther Party. So, there was no real connection between the two, but, as the years have gone by, the Black Panther and other African-American comic book characters, they have become symbols.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In the story, T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, returns to the technologically-advanced and secret nation of Wakanda after the assassination of his father.

    T’Challa’s quest to protect a rare mineral from falling into the wrong hands ignites a battle for control of the kingdom.

  • Jesse Holland:

    He’s a king. He’s a scientist. He’s a billionaire. He’s someone who can get the job done all by himself, and I think that resonates with a lot of comic book fans.

  • Lupita Nyong’o:

    We have here a Marvel Universe that is unapologetically black.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, a Wakandan spy and warrior.

  • Lupita Nyong’o:

    To see us occupy an African country with kings and queens and warriors, it’s so inspiring.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Numerous campaigns to allow students to see the film have popped up on fund-raising sites, and church groups, Girls and Boys Clubs, and many other organizations are renting out whole theaters.

  • The film’s soundtrack, too, has generated excitement. Produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther:

    The Album” is set to debut atop the Billboard 200 chart and currently stands as the second most popular album on iTunes.

    Black Panther may be a milestone in the $13 billion Marvel film Universe, but T’Challa is not the first black character.

  • Jesse Holland:

    You have Wesley Snipes in “Blade.” You have Robert Townsend in “Meteor Man.”

    But this movie is really resonating with people because the Black Panther was the first mainstream black superhero. And he’s come to mean a lot to a lot of people because his story is so strong. His story is one of hope, one of power, one of family.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It’s clearly going to do well. But what are the stakes for a film like this?

  • Jesse Holland:

    Well, the great thing about Black Panther is that, before now, Hollywood was never quite sure that movies that feature a black lead, that were helmed by a black director, that was written by a black writer, they were never sure how those films would play around the world.

    With the success of “Black Panther,” with the success of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” that myth has been shattered forever.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    “Black Panther” is now in theaters nationwide.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown.

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