Black Panther & Black Lightning are Rewriting the Age of Superheroes


WARNING: The following article contains mild spoilers for both Black Panther and https://www.cbr.com/tag/black-lightning/.

If you'd mentioned to someone even seven years ago that a movie about Black Panther would not only exist but be breaking box office records and inspiring a genuine cultural moment, they probably wouldn't have believed you. Likewise, no one would've thought that a show about a dedicated C-list superhero like Black Lightning would be a smash hit and making TV history.

Yet, incredibly, all this has come to pass.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise Black Lightning and Black Panther are huge hits. Not only are they shaking up the overwhelming whiteness that's stifled the modern age of superhero movies and television, they're taking characters that have been either sidelined or ignored for decades and giving their stories new contexts and making them relevant for modern audiences. And they're rewiring superhero media in the process.

RELATED: Black Panther Rescues One of Marvel’s Most Problematic Characters

The obvious place to start is Black Panther, a movie so anticipated that it was one of the most talked-about films of 2017, despite not even coming out until a few weeks ago. And, once you see the film, you realize there's good reason for that.

Black Panther movie

Not only does the screenplay by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole reposition T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) so that he's at the beginning of his reign as king of Wakanda and as the Black Panther (a period of history largely ignored outside of flashbacks until Marvel's current Rise of the Black Panther miniseries), it also takes the troubling, uncomfortable parts of the character and makes them the primary thematic focus of the film.

By "troubling" and "uncomfortable," I mean the film zeroes in on the facts that T'Challa is a king -- historically, not the most enlightened type of ruler -- and that Wakanda's history is one of both incredible technological advancement and staunch isolationism. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) argues repeatedly with T'Challa that Wakanda should drop its facade--a holographically-assisted one--that it is a third world country and should help the rest of the world, particularly the fellow nations of Africa.

RELATED: Black Panther’s Shuri Is the Genius Movies Need Right Now

Likewise, T'Challa is torn over how to follow the reign of his father T'Chaka (John Kani) as well as be a fair king in his own right. T'Chaka--who was murdered by Baron Zemo in Captain America: Civil War--tells him early on in T'Challa's ceremonial vision of the ancestral plane that "It is hard for a good man to be king." T'Challa struggles with the burden of this throughout the film and the true emotional climax of the story comes when he openly declares that his father and all his ancestors were wrong and that he must do things "my way!" Such a powerful rebuke of outdated, harmful traditions--and of the shameful secret that lies within his own family history--signifies that T'Challa is going to be both a new kind of king and a new kind of superhero.

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