Black Panther is a fantasy movie, and why it matters
Fantasy media involves magic and / or takes place in an alternate world. Technically, Black Panther meets both of these criteria. So why is this important?
Let’s talk about fantasy for a moment. Broad definitions of the genre say that it involves some form of magic and / or takes place in an alternate world. Black Panther meets these criteria, but why is it important?
First of all, a little more details. The power of Wakanda comes from technological advances; he was made great by the skill and innovation of his people rather than by supernatural causes. But Wakanda’s technology is so advanced that to aliens (or probably Arthur C. Clarke) it is almost “indistinguishable from magic” and some things – like the flower that gives the Black Panther their power – explicitly border on the fantastic. .
More than having some current elements of the genre, Black Panther uses many of the same storytelling models. A young king who must flourish, an emphasis on family, ritual and succession, visions of family members offering their advice. These popular fantasy tropes and more all appear in Black Panther.
More than just a taxonomy
Accepting Black Panther because an entry into the canon of fantasy is important considering that fantasy is one of the whitest genres on the planet. There are a myriad of fantastic writers of color who have written incredible stories about characters of color. But when we think of the mainstream fantasy cliché, it’ll almost always be a buff white guy on a tacky book cover, likely with a scantily clad white woman hugging her protruding kneecaps. And the movie industry has done little or nothing to dispel that image.
Listen. I like The Lord of the Rings. But whatever justifications you come up with for defending the predominantly white cast (and I haven’t heard any good ones yet), the result is inherently racist visual language. Even the Hobbit the films, released a decade later, still only have colored characters in the background. The threads are completely white.
Guys, the movie Dungeons and Dragons, released the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring and got a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, had two dark-skinned people in non-evil roles. If this hilarious film can do better than one of the most critically acclaimed fantasy films, what does that say about the state of the genre?
How Marvel Got Fantastic
Thor is the must-see sci-fi / fantasy franchise in the Marvel Universe. In Ragnarok, we see Heimdall played by Idris Elba being a sexy badass-Aragorn space and saving everyone on Asgard (side note: Heimdall totally should have been made king). Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is one of my all-time favorite Marvel characters, cool and complicated and totally hilarious. But even the choice of two supporting characters as actors of color resulted in some backlash from the “fans,” claiming everything from the disrespectful decision towards the original characters to, most disconcertingly, the fact that she was not “historically accurate”.
It’s amazing how often this claim of historical correctness pops up regarding the inclusion of more women, people of color, and LGBT + people in fantastic media. These strong advocates of realism are scrambling to insist that anyone other than a straight white man has no place in fantasy media, but mysteriously never brings up the fact that no one in Tolkien ever dies of dysentery.
Race issues run deep in the fantasy genre. And the lack of good fantasy movies in general means that predominantly white leads are basically all we get. It sends a message to young people of color that characters who look like them have no place in these stories.
Black Panther is changing that. The state of mainstream movies is such that whatever genre you categorize them into, its diverse cast will be groundbreaking. But when it is also considered a fantasy film, it sets an important precedent.
Black Pantherthe response of
In the same way that so many people have claimed that there is no “need” for non-white people in fantasy stories, Black Panther creates a world in which there is no logical need for white characters to be present. Instead of arguing that historical inaccuracy is irrelevant in make-believe worlds, he simply envisions a society in which that very argument justifies the presence of colored characters rather than excluding them.
Even taken out of context in the history of the fantasy genre, Black Panther is still important. It goes to show that movies can have some fantastic elements without focusing on white people or white cultures, and be very successful at that. Hopefully, this will open the door to more diverse fantasy films, as well as fantasy adaptations written by / about people of color. By creating more diverse media and duly recognizing the diversity of media that has already existed, fantasy as a genre will only get better.
So here’s to breaking the stereotypes about the fantastic by breaking the stereotypes within the fantasy. Who else is the hype for A wrinkle in time?