Why Asian-Americans couldn’t be more ready for Black Panther
In 1995 a cousin of mine made the move from Seattle to California. And before he left, he presented me with a large white cardboard box with random stickers and squiggly doodles that were barely legible. Inside the box was one of the sexiest things I had ever laid my eyes on (up to that point anyway). It was a box of old Marvel comic books. Graphic novel masterpieces that went back from the late 60’s to present day, spanning almost every Marvel universe from the X-Men, to the Avengers, to the Incredible Hulk.
It’s not hyperbole to say that I fell in love with those comic books, which ultimately shaped the awkward, anti-social comic book geek writing to you now. My heart belonged to the Avengers. Growing up in southern Alaska, aka Seattle, somehow made it seem almost plausible that there was this high-tech superpowered fighting squad with a base in New York city, protecting our planet from pointy bearded villains seeking to reign destruction onto our world.
Of course, it didn’t dawn on me during that time of formative wokeness, that some of the more prominent black characters were mere sidekicks in the larger context, Black Panther not excluded. All I really knew about his character was that his name was T’Challa, and he was from some African country, and he mostly played the role of a pretty decent backup to Captain America.
Fast forward a few decades, and not much seemed to have changed, at least in Hollywood. Sure, they decided to go with a black Nick Fury, spun off a fairly decent Luke Cage Netflix series, and gave Falcon a few punchy one-liners, but black characters in the cinematic universe had mostly gone the way of their classic comic book ancestors-mere sidekicks. Robin to the Batman, or more accurately, Kato to the Green Hornet (we’ll get to that in a second).
That is, until Captain America: Civil War.
One of the best creative decisions about that movie (along with the decision to power mushroom Paul Rudd), was the story arc of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. It would have been sufficient perhaps to grant Black Panther a large role in the movie, perhaps one equivalent to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, but the creators decided to go a step further: they gave Black Panther an actual arc.
For those not up with storytelling/screenwriting lingo, an arc is the growth of a character over the course of a story. Typically it goes from a character down on their luck, to massive success, but the unifying concept is that the character undergoes change. And arc is what has changed with this newest theatrical release.
You see, it’s no longer satisfactory for people of color to merely play a supporting roles, because the term “supporting role” itself encapsulates everything about Hollywood that needs to undergo a serious facelift. Supporting roles serve primarily as a prop…in an effort to shed a brighter light on the true hero of the story: The main protagonist.
And who has been the main protagonist for 17 Marvel movies and countless TV spin-offs? That’s right, all white characters.
It is Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, Starlord, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man.
These are all amazing characters, and deserve to be swimming in vault of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. Yes that’s a Duck Tales reference, and don’t pretend you never had that fantasy.
This is heartbreaking to admit, but I stopped getting excited by Marvel movies in the past few years. Formulaic and somewhat predictable, teenage me was beginning to die a slow death.
But this week marks the first time in the Marvel universe, where the first main protagonist is a black man. We will get to see a full, 2 hour long story arc where we get to live vicariously in a fictional superhero world, through the eyes of an African King.
And I can’t contain my excitement.
This is the moment that not only black people, but people of color everywhere are excited for. According to research, people of color make up about half of the moviegoer audience. Hollywood, as well as creators of stories in general-whether you are a marketing, advertiser, novel writer, or other, need to understand that we are yearning, begging even…to see more movies where the hero is someone that looks like us. And by “us” I mean the half of the planet that doesn’t have blond hair and blue eyes (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
And this is what Asian-Americans like myself have been waiting for. Because through social media we have been voicing our complaints about Hollywood white-washing for quite some time now. And through all the terrible anime adaptations, pillaging of an awesome Last Airbender franchise, and the last straw that was Matt Damon saving China, we are finally seeing some change. Mulan is now pretty much an all-asian cast as it should be, we could see an Asian superhero in our lifetime, and I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing Scarlett Johansson play a Japanese android anytime soon.
Because like Kato in the 1970’s, Bruce Lee deserved to be the star in anything and everything he was in, because he was so tremendously talented. But unfortunately, the industry, whether that means comic book or movie, was not yet ready for an Asian comic book hero. His genius will only be appreciated in a different time.
So my heart, as well as my soul, will be full this week…as I get ready to watch the first Marvel entry of a person of color, and hope this is just the start of something bigger, and much more relatable.