“How would my life have been different if I’d had [Black Panther] as a child?”
Saturday afternoon, the Diversity Track held a panel full of comic book creators and scholars gathering for a discussion entitled “The Psychology of Black Panther, Wakanda, and the Transformative Power of Comic Books,” which started off with a question for everyone about what the character of Black Panther, and the surrounding medias, meant to everyone. Stanford Carpenter, a cultural anthropologist, offered the above sentiment to start off, talking about taking in the Black Panther film with a variety of groups, including colleagues, and his children. The impact on each group was noticeable, and he was grateful that this story exists for Black kids to have someone to look up to.
Dr. Vanessa Hintz spoke on the diversity of Black women, both in roles they play—warrior, scholar, mother, etc.—and in body diversity, shapes, sizes, and skin tones, from light to dark—a place where darker Black women in particular are often overlooked. “They did Black women a huge huge service” in the filmmakers’ approach to their portrayal of women.
Alex Simmons has an extensive resume of working within the comic industry, a writer, artist, creator, and convention creator. He resonated with the power of having an African superhero with a strong moral code, who—unlike many superheroes—hasn’t lost his family as a part of an origin story, nor has a criminal background, things rarely seen in Black characters in the comic world. “Someone who looks like me needs to be out there in the world.”
Jarvis Sheffield, the director of the diversity track, enthused that “I’ve been waiting my entire life for this movie.” He echoed Simmons’ feeling of the importance of seeing a strong Black character with a whole family who embraced and supported him.
Victor Dandridge, an independent comic creator, shifted to how the Black Panther film was done in a bubble outside of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), pointing out that you can remove the movie from the line, and still arrive at Avengers: Endgame without missing a beat. In that capacity, it feels like rather than trying to integrate the Black story into the larger MCU, they used it as a way to appease audiences. “The idea that we could have a raccoon, and a walking, talking tree, before we could have Black Panther is low-key a slap in the face,” he pointed out in frustration of how long it took to get this film. Sheffield asked if anyone had reactions to that comment, and a silence descended. “That’s the best mic drop face I’ve ever seen,” he said, about the lack of response; the quiet was the answer.
The financial success—Black Panther made more money in the United States than Avengers: Infinity War—was unexpected by the studio, (and probably most of the movie-going world) and made them rush for inclusion of the characters into the later MCU films, to ensure the audiences would come in for more. Black people showed up, not just an audience but everyone on the creative team, and they took a character who was created by Jewish men and made it feel like the entire world was impossible to not have come directly from Black creators—they weren’t just consuming the media, they were wresting it back for themselves and their community.
Hintz was asked recently what she thought America would look like if slavery had never happened, and her response was Wakanda, although it’s hard to imagine given the levels of racism we have been entrenched in because of our history of slavery and its continued path of destruction through our society. It is harder for her to see Killmonger as fully a villain, when given the context and history of racism and race-based traumas that run generationally thought Black people; she understood his perspectives.
Daniel Jun Kim, a writer and content creator, who started to look deeper into Black Panther as an attempt to connect with a superhero of color, since there aren’t many Asian comic characters, found himself also connecting with T’Challa on a spiritual level. Particularly in the comics, but certainly in the film, T’Challa is one of the more religious characters in the Marvel universe, however his faith is never the source of the work he needs to do; that is where he looks to other people, to science and technology, with an understanding that prayer is important to him, but it’s not the way to get things done. People pray during the pandemic, Kim pointed out, but he thinks God would say “wear a mask.” Faith is wonderful, but it requires works and actions as well, and T’Challa knows that—it resonates throughout his character growth and story arcs.