Black Panther in South Korea and watching the first truly marvelous Marvel and the Posing of the “Wakanda Question”

Michael Hurt
Feb 15, 2018 · 5 min read

The Show

I originally wrote the original version of this post on February 15, the day after it premiered in South Korea. Our little group, comprised largely of members of the “Brothas and Sistas in South Korea” social and Facebook group, arranged the earliest possible showing we could get of the film through the Yongsan Lotte Cinema, as a custom screening it provided for our mostly black and black-compatible group here in Seoul.

Photo credit: Ty Pittman

A Thought Experiment

We all know that white people like them some historical hypotheticals as popular entertainment:

A Bevy of Interpretations

Within the first minute, the film lets you know it has come to excoriate the history of western colonialism and its crimes, but do so without lowering itself into the mud by actually uttering Voldemort’s name. The main character ain’t the west, white people, or any of that. You knew from the opening credits that this ain’t that kinda movie — and interestingly, the Marvel opening sequence doesn’t even roll until after the history has been laid down. It’s almost an afterthought, like “I guess we have to do this, since it’s paying the bills, so…here’s that Marvel thing.” But the film starts by telling you it’s about bigger stakes than just infinity stones and other assorted fanboy bullshit. It felt like it was winking the entire first 3 minutes as it said, “This is bigger than the text at hand. Get ready for subtext, niggas. You’re in for a fucking ride that ain’t just about Marvel shit.” If you’re paying attention.

Breaking Barriers

There is a stubborn myth that “Koreans don’t watch black films.” It stems partially from the American marketing myth that the general (white) audiences “can’t identify with a non-white character” and that films about race or other types of alterity don’t sell. Trepidation of this type was in the air when Get Out and Hidden Figures played here; but both did quite well. As if to spike that bump and set, Black Panther just squashed many box office records by being the top grossing country outside the United States during the opening week. At this point, the conventional wisdom about blacks and the marketability of content in Korea (and internationally) should be smashed to bits.

From a Black Panther-related exhibit at the Yongsan CGV.
A parody of the classic Korean painting by Kim Deuk-shin.

Popular Ebonicities

Blacked pop cultural textual analysis and industrial strength critique.

Michael Hurt

Written by

A visual sociologist writing, teaching, and shooting in Seoul since 2002.

Popular Ebonicities

Blacked pop cultural textual analysis and industrial strength critique.