Like hungry mice flocking to a cube of cheese, African American moviegoers across the nation will converge for a forth consecutive weekend to watch “Black Panther” – Marvel’s cultural juggernaut of a film.
This didactic superhero tale has triggered a continuous wave of verve and pride among the urban community, which underscores the power of a well-worked storyline (and an effective marketing strategy).
As the largest consumers of goods and services in the country, Blacks are ideal targets for any company equipped with a robust advertising budget.
With that in mind, Marvel’s release of a film based in Africa during Black History Month was neither a coincidence or a sincere gesture. Frankly, they wanted a share of the $1.2 trillion that African Americans spend every year on fashion, technology, and entertainment.
Black buying power is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to a report from the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.This trend will continue as the country becomes more diverse, driven in part by growth in immigration from the Caribbean and Africa. As a result, it’s a key time for companies to “build and sustain deeper, more meaningful connections” with Black consumers, according to a recent Nielsen Report.
In other words, for the next several years, White CEOs will do whatever they can to make Black people feel special – and at the same time secure a hefty profit. Therefore, Marvel worked tirelessly in 2016 to convince minorities that Black Panther would be “culturally significant”. Many believe it was more of a ploy to ensure maximal gain at the box office.
In North America, it debuted to $242 million, coming in second only to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” To date, the film has taken in more than $1 billion worldwide.
A breakdown of Black Panther’s viewership reveals that 37 percent of ticket buyers were African-American, Whites made up 35 percent, and Hispanics were 18 percent of the ticket-buying population over the film’s opening weekend.
These numbers are a far cry from the 15 percent of an audience that African-American viewers typically occupy for superhero films. Similarly, women were 45 percent of ticket buyers, up 10 percent for a normal movie opening. In other words, Marvel’s lining their pockets with tons of black dollars.
By the end of its second night, Black Panther had already become the highest-grossing title in history at 33 AMC theaters across the country, according to the Hollywood Reporter
Put another way, Black Panther earned more at those cinemas on Thursday evening and Friday — along with advance ticket sales for other times during the weekend — than any other movie has in an entire weekend.
By the end of Saturday, the number of theaters setting revenue records climbed to 80 locations, more than 10 percent of the entire circuit.
AMC didn’t provide a list of the theaters, nor a precise dollar amount for those cinemas, but noted that there were a record 83 showings on Friday at the AMC Southlake 24 near Atlanta.
“Black Panther” remained dominant in its fourth weekend at the North American box office with $41.1 million at 3,942 locations, easily overtaking the opening weekend of fantasy-adventure “A Wrinkle in Time,” coincidentally starring a black female lead, with $33.5 million at 3,980 sites, estimates showed Sunday.
What analysts predicted would be a close contest among Disney titles for first place morphed into a landslide victory for “Black Panther.”
The Marvel title declined only 38 percent and generated the third-highest fourth weekend of all time, trailing only “Avatar” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
With $562 million in 24 days, “Black Panther” is now the seventh-highest domestic grosser of all time, reports Vanity fair. It’s the first film since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to lead the North American box office for four straight weekends and it’s grossed $1.08 billion worldwide, 21st highest of all time.
Marvel’s investment in a stand-alone movie for Wakanda’s king signals a new era for Black superheroes – and superhero movies at large.
Rolling Stone’s Tre Johnson writes:
“In the Nineties and the early 2000s, attempts to make Black superhero movies tended to play like Blaxploitation, running the gamut from intentionally hilarious (1993’s “Meteor Man” and 1994’s “Blankman”) or hilariously bad (“Steel” and “Spawn,” both 1997). They were usually analogues of white superheroes like Superman and Batman at best, and a one-note joke at worst”
“Black Panther already feels different from all of this. Coogler has set out to do something with the modern black superhero that all previous iterations have fallen short of doing: making it respectable, imaginative and powerful. The Afro-punk and Afrofuturism aesthetics, the unapologetic black swagger, the miniscule appearances from non-black characters – it’s an important resetting of a standard of what’s possible around creating a mythology for a black superhero.”
Not since Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” in 1992 has there been so much hype and hope for a movie among African-American audiences. From special group outings planned by excited fans to crowdfunding campaigns to ensure children can see it, “Black Panther” has become a phenomenon.
In December, a viral video of two African-American men excited to see the movie’s poster with its all-star Black cast — “This is what White people get to feel like ALL THE TIME?!!!!” one man wrote on Twitter — seemed to capture the anticipation, garnering more than 2.5 million views.
The film is making a huge splash among viewers in Africa as well, dealing a powerful blow to the incendiary remarks about the continent by President Trump
During a red-carpet premiere in Johannesburg, South Africa, cast member John Kani (who plays king T’Chaka) laughed at the U.S. president’s views, which several African nations have openly scorned. (Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o said simply: “No comment.”)
Kani, a native of South Africa, expressed pride at seeing an “Afrofuturistic” society that celebrates traditional cultures and dreams of what the world’s second most populous continent can be.
“This time the sun now is shining on Africa,” he said. “This movie came at the right time. We’re struggling to find leaders that are exemplary and role models … so when you see the Black Panther as a young boy and he takes off that mask you think, ‘Oh my God, he looks like me. He is African and I am African. Now we can look up to some person who is African.”
A cold reality
The relationship between Africans and Black Americans is severely fractured. And despite vigorous efforts to unite both groups, the latter may continue to view Africa as an undeveloped land, while natives of the motherland generally believe that African Americans are not taking full advantage of the economic and occupational opportunities available to them. These sentiments have caused strife and division among several generations of people.
African American film fans–whole families in some instances–can be spotted donning dashikis, Kente cloth, headwraps, and skinny jeans – snapped pictures of themselves in the lobby. Fathers cradled their sons tight as if they were there to hear a speech from Dr. King himself. Mothers practiced African-inspired dance steps with their daughters. Grandparents reminisced about their days battling “the man” as members of the storied Black Panther Party.
It was a good ol’ time … and yet I was radiating with disgust. “So it takes White people to create a Back superhero for us to show a little unity?” I asked myself.
Why do we celebrate like newly freed slaves whenever the powers in Hollywood decide to throw us a bone?
Granted, the release of Black Panther is a massive step in the right direction. It’s the first sci-fi movie to feature a predominately African American cast and crew.
The success of this film and future installments will inevitably open doors of opportunity for minorities – and that’s encouraging.
But if these projects are bankrolled by White overseers, they’ll always be in the power position structurally and financially.
How long will it take for us to break this cycle? Will we ever stop waiting for “them” to tell “our” stories?
I saw Black Panther with my Jewish friend, who appeared to be gleefully amused by the sight of “RayRay”and others in African-inspired clothing.
“What’s with the costumes, dude?” he asked.
“It’s hard to explain,” I replied.
“Don’t they know Jews created the original concept?”
Inevitably, once the hype cools off, most of us will forget that Africa even exists.