Marvel Studios’ Black Panther won’t be the first black superhero comic book adaptation that has ever been made (what with Blade, Spawn, and even Steel for that matter having been produced back in the 1990s), but it shall be the first one released in the modern age of the superhero movie genre – not to mention, the first one headlined by an African superhero, at that. Chadwick Boseman of 42 and Get on Up fame will first portray T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War this May, before getting his own solo movie in 2018, as directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and scripted by Joe Robert Cole, a graduate of Marvel Studios’ own in-house writing program.
Naturally, at a time when the issue of diversification and proper representation within the film industry – be it in terms of the race/gender of characters depicted onscreen, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the people who are working behind the camera on movies today – is a hot discussion topic, Black Panther comes loaded with big expectations from people that go well beyond the usual comic book movie-loving crowd. Rest assured, Cole says he’s all too aware of that, too.
Cole, during an interview with Mother Jones, discussed his experience developing Black Panther thus far. When asked if he was surprised when he landed the job of writing Black Panther, Cole answered:
No. Having gone through the [Marvel] writer program, I knew Black Panther was in the pipeline and I knew they were big fans of my writing. But I had to compete with the other writers who were put up for it—no one hands out jobs.
Marvel’s in-house program has also given rise to such screenwriters as Nicole Perlman, who wrote the original script draft for Guardians of the Galaxy and did script doctoring for the first Thor solo film; she has since moved on to co-writing the script for Captain Marvel, which will be Marvel Studios’ first movie headlined solely by a female superhero character – following not long after Ant-Man and the Wasp, at that. Much like Captain Marvel is a rare case of a female superhero film being written by a woman (two women, actually), Black Panther is the rare case of a black superhero movie both written and directed by black storytellers – a matter of significance that Cole noted, during his interview with Mother Jones:
Black Panther is a historic opportunity to be a part of something important and special, particularly at a time when African Americans are affirming their identities while dealing with vilification and dehumanization. The image of a black hero on this scale is just really exciting. When I was a kid, I would change superheroes’ names: Instead of James Bond, I was James Black. Instead of Batman, I was Blackman. And I have a three-year-old son. My son will be five when Black Panther comes out. That puts it all into perspective for me.
Beyond its pop cultural impact, Cole added that he, Coogler, and Black Panther producer Nate Moore “are cognizant of what’s going on in the world, in black communities, and in our country” – and said that the film shall address that in some fashion, much as the upcoming Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage looks to do during its first season (going by leaked set photos and comments from cast/crew members, at the least). Of course, whereas Luke Cage is an African-American character and his TV show is poised to examine hot-topic issues concerning the African-American population right now, Black Panther is an African character and his solo film has been described by no less an authority than Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige as something closer to a geopolitical thriller than anything else. There should be significant differences between these upcoming MCU installments (and the subject matter they examine), for the same reasons.
Cole likewise noted in the Mother Jones interview that while his and Coogler’s perspectives as black storytellers should help the pair as they continue to develop Black Panther (something that Coogler has spoken about too), they still have to do their fair share of research for the project. Case in point, when asked how he may and may not relate to the African superhero T’Challa, Cole answered:
That’s a really good question. I write characters focusing on them as human beings, and then you wrap them within a culture. So I think I can connect with him as a person with brown skin who’s viewed differently by the world. In terms of his culture, we’re thinking about where we are locating Wakanda within the continent, and what the people and history of that region are like. It’s a process of investigation to help inform the story at this point. But we are going to be engaged with consultants who are experts on the continent and on African history and politics.
In addition, Cole touched briefly on the challenge that he, Coogler, and their collaborators face, when it comes to creating the scientifically-advanced nation of Wakanda in Black Panther, but at the same time keeping it rooted in actual historical African culture (read: not “westernizing” the fictional setting):
That’s one of the many questions that excite me. I think you try to extrapolate from the early civilizations and cultures of the continent, kind of looking for unique ways they set themselves apart from Western civilizations, and then pursue those avenues technologically and see where that takes you.
All things considered, Black Panther has the potential to be a highly notable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – not only thanks to the rich comic book mythology behind the film, but the caliber of talent involved (on both sides of the camera, here) and the care that Cole indicates is being taken to do right by the movie’s namesake. Filmgoers won’t have to wait too much longer to get their first look at T’Challa on the big screen either, as Civil War (at the time of writing this) shall kickoff Phase 3 of the MCU – and pave the way for the introduction of several new MCU characters over the next few years – in a matter of a few months.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.