Black Panther is one of the most important cultural moments in American history
As you all already know, Black Panther set all types of records this past weekend, not just for Black films, and Black directors, and Black casts, and Black film crews…not just for all superhero films (although it did break several records for every superhero movie ever made), but Black Panther actually set several records for any film ever made.
I have to pause right there.
Tens of thousands of movies have been made in this country. When you set even a single all-time record for every film ever made, you are in rarified air.
And without giving away any special parts of the movie, without any spoilers, because I know some of you still haven’t been able to go see it yet, I want to honestly tell you how big, how important, how historic I think Black Panther is.
I’m a historian by training.
And I like to say that it’s hard to know a moment in history when you are in it. History is easiest seen retrospectively. History is best understood when you can look back and give it context. It’s hard, sometimes, to know just how big a moment in history is when you are right in the middle of it.
But I want to try to give Black Panther some historic context.
As a cultural moment, when I look back on Black history, and consider some of the most important turning points, some of the most important breakthroughs, some of the most essential moments, 4–5 events come to mind.
Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery.
Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
The birth of hip hop.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” becoming the best selling album of all-time.
The election of Barack Obama as our first Black President.
Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest police brutality and injustice in America.
I put Black Panther in that space. I’m not kidding. Culturally, I really do think it’s that important. It means that much.
Give me a moment to explain myself.
First, we live in a country where movies, music, and sports are more important than God to a lot of people. It’s why Colin Kaepernick’s protest rocked the nation and got the whole world talking. Taking a knee is a simple act of defiance. Had Colin done it anywhere other than the football field, it might not have even made the news. But it was because of where he did it that made it a game changer.
First, worldwide Black Panther made almost $400 million this past weekend. Listen, the film cost $200 million to make, which by the way is the most a Black director has ever been given, but it doubled that in the first weekend.
It’s going to make well over a billion dollars and may actually do so within a month. From a pure business standpoint, it is to film what Michael Jackson’s Thriller was to music. The whole world stopped to not just watch this movie, it was bigger than that, the whole world stopped to soak in this moment. We bought special outfits. We brought our entire crew. Schools and community centers bought out entire theaters. Dozens of theaters have said it was the most watched film they’ve ever had — ever. Are you hearing me? That means they’ve never seen anything like this before. We posed and took photos. It was not just a movie, it was and is a moment of deep pride.
But let me close by talking about the movie. Nothing like it has ever been done before. Not just with a Black superhero, but with several Black superheroes. Black Panther had a whole cast of beautiful Black brilliance. Black scientists. Black Presidents. The style. The technology. The color.
But it’s even deeper than that. There is a movement we call Afro-Futurism, where we imagine a Black way of life free of white supremacy and bigotry. Black Panther, I think, is the first blockbuster film centered in the ethos of Afro-Futurism, where the writers, and directors, and makeup and wardrobe team all imagined a beautiful, thriving Black Africa without colonialism.
Wakanda showed us our families in one piece. No war on drugs. No mass incarceration. No KKK. No lynching. No racial profiling. No police brutality.
In this world, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin get to grow up. Sandra Bland and Erica Garner are still alive. It’s an alternate parallel universe where we win and we rule.
Our traditions and culture have not been destroyed. We have beautiful rituals and rites of passage.
And even though it’s 2018, and we’re all getting older, nothing like this has ever been done before in this country — nothing. I found myself fighting back tears several times throughout the film and moments that I don’t think were even supposed to be emotional. It was just so damn beautiful.
Listen, go see it again. I’m going to go once just with my wife and even go back again with my whole family. Let’s make this moment last.