Two of the minds behind Black Panther—film director Ryan Coogler and comic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates—had a candid conversation about now was the right time for both of their works. Black Panther set a new February IMAX record and is currently dominating at the box office around the world as it heads towards its third weekend where it’ll soon top Avengers: Age of Ultron. With little in the way of competition, it’s set to add even more to its global haul (well past $700 million at this point). And within its own universe, Black Panther is the MCU’s third highest earner.
All of that success has once again led to discussions of whether Hollywood will finally open its doors to more diverse casts, crews, and stories. Though franchise like The Hunger Games and Fast and Furious have elicited similar responses, studios often remain tepid about greenlighting films with people of color or women in the lead. But Disney is proving of a different mind, with films like Black Panther and A Wrinkle In Time alone this year offering new perspectives in blockbuster cinema. And for two key creatives in the Black Panther universe, this is only the beginning.
Black Panther #170 is out this week from Marvel Comics and the book ends with a discussion between writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and the director and co-writer of the Black Panther film Ryan Coogler. After discussing their different approaches to the character and their history as comic fans, Coogler asserts that the success of Coates’ book is a product of the time we’re in, but thinks his film could have been a hit in the past. But as the two continue speaking, an interesting conversation emerges about culture, inclusivity, and the confidence Disney and Marvel Studios have.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Ryan, you don’t think there was something going on, though? Like, to push it a little further, do you think there was something that was happening right now that allowed Marvel to even greenlight that movie? To even decide to make a Black Panther movie, like at this point?
Ryan Coogler: I’m sorry, Ta-Nehisi, you saying, like, do I think that there’s something going on in the culture?
Coates: Yeah, like, in the broader culture, or even in our culture, Like, do you think they would have greenlit it, I don’t know, even like twenty years ago, ten years ago? I mean, it’s a radical thing to say, ‘Yo, I’m gonna tell the story of this black super hero and I’m gonna do it in the country, I’m going to do it in Wakanda, and it’s going to be basically all black people in the movie.’ you know what I mean? So for someone like Disney to be like, ‘Yeah, all right, we doing that,’ you think there’s something going on there?
Coogler: I think it was a combination of a lot of things. I think it’s the company Disney being at a point of confidence, trying to take risks. I think it’s Marvel Studios. But I do think it’s the cultural space as well, with Internet and social media, these forms of communication, seeing the impact that people of color have on the market. Look at the Fast and Furious franchise, right?
Coates: Right, right.
Coogler: You look at it and you see how profitable it is when you have a film that has such broad inclusivity, and seeing how that film series just travels. You at Straight Outta Compton, you see how financially successful that was. The business is there, and I think it makes companies realize, ‘Oh yeah, we might be able to do this.’ You won’t find a company that’s more confident right now and a company that’s smarter right now than Disney.
Considering Coates began as a journalist and Coogler making indie films, both have an interesting perspective on working within a bigger machine like Marvel and Disney. Paired with the facts that more diverse films attract wider audiences and make more money, Coolger’s assessment that Disney is making strong decisions is an interesting one to hear. And given Black Panther‘s success, he’s not wrong.
Even theaters owners want more diverse films in the wake of Black Panther and Wonder Woman cleaning up at the box office. There are few questions that a film featuring Iron Man or Superman can be a hit, but few estimate how well Black Panther and Wonder Woman would do. In the end, they’ve performed remarkably well and proven that a wider range of moviegoers are eager for new and interesting stories with different perspectives. Hopefully, studios will finally start taking notice.
Black Panther #170 is available now from Marvel and comic book retailers.
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