Ethnicity representation is an important yet controversial issue in the United States. For many years, the images of people from ethnicities other than white have been lacking. Many films have responded to criticisms about ethnicity representation and have tried to improve on this issue. However, there is still some criticism because although the number of people, especially from the black community, has increased, the quality of their roles in film has not improved (Mastro, 2017). In many instances, they play a stereotypical role, such as that of a criminal or an antagonist. There is evidence that often, these representations in the media affect the way people see others from these communities and also the way they see themselves. Extremely negative representations may end up limiting the opportunities for some people or may make them face prejudices in the real world. The movie Black Panther features a groundbreaking portrayal of black people. In the movie, they are seen as superheroes and people capable of creating a strong and extensive civilization without being under the white man. The main villain in the movie is also black which shows that black people can have diverse roles and characters in a society (Cooglar, 2018).
The movie, Black Panther, was produced at a time when great political tensions existed due to the election of President Trump in the United States. However, such tensions have existed in the USA for so long that they may be considered to be declining. It could even be argued that the movie is an example of the declining tensions between various ethnic communities in the USA. However, reception and criticism of the movie among various audiences shows that many are not ready to see different side of black people. In the article by Tyree & Jacobs (2014), the argument that people are not yet ready to see black men as a symbol of power is made. Tyree & Jacobs (2014) argue that white male characters have previously dominated superhero movies and even when black people are featured, they are usually either the villain or only playing a supportive role. However, the film, Black Panther offers a different perspective. The monarch in the movie, Wakanda, has existed for many years and has been ruled by black people on their own for very many years (Cooglar, 2018). The people in Wakanda have relied on vibranium to build their economy and the various weapons they use. Their ability to utilize their resources without help from the outside world is a critical point in the portrayal of black people in the film. There is a stereotype that exists that black people cannot do much without the help of white people. The film breaks this stereotype by showing that they are able to build a city and shielf it from the outside world without help (Cooglar, 2018).
Another issue addressed in the film is the issue of identity. People from ethnic minority groups in the US often suffer an identity crisis. The representation of people in the media and film plays a big role in shaping people’s identity. Tyree & Jacobs (2014) argue that for many Americans, the standard in superhero movies is a white male. This means that white males can look up to these people in the superhero movies. Black people’s identity on the other hand is often destroyed by the fact that they do not have anyone to look up to in the media. They grow up seeing themselves as the villain or the victim of one thing or another. This can really have an impact on their identity as a people. In the movie, the slogan, Wakanda Forever, which is chanted a number of times, seeks to push the idea that people could have an identity that is not victimized or villain-like. Most of the actors in the movie are black and they play huge roles in their community. Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, for example, is an inventor. For black girls, this means that they can identify with her and see themselves as technologists and inventors. Shuri’s role in the movie is huge and she builds and invents weapons and technologies whose purpose cannot be overstated (Cooglar, 2018). Nakia and Ayo also go on a mission to Korea and have to fight for their country. Their identity in the movie is well crafted and they are easy to identify with without stereotyping (Cooglar, 2018). Finally, the main role in the movie shows a strong black man who has to make tough decisions, protects the people in his country and rules with justice, power and mercy. These varied roles in the movie show how the media can represent people from ethnic minority communities (Golf and Schroeter, 2017). Such representation is important in making sure that people do not see themselves as only one negative thing.
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The film, which is currently part of mainstream media, also seeks to make people from ethnic minority communities feel a part of the mainstream culture. For many years, their exclusion from the mainstream media has led people to see them as part of a different culture, even while they go to the same schools and use the same public spaces as them. Golf and Schroeter (2017) explain that films speak about power in a very direct way. The article talks about leveling of power, where minorities in movies are seen as equally powerful as people from the larger and more dominant ethnic communities. A film like Black Panther shows a crucial role towards leveling the power in the film industry. By leveling the powers, people start to believe that a superhero, or a leading role in a movie can be from any community. People also start to see similarities between them and the people from other communities. They stop focusing on the negative differences and instead on the positive similarities. Shifting of focus and power has the impact of making sure that people are more accepting and tolerating of others in the society. In the Black Panther movie, for example, the civilization built in Wakanda is very similar to what exists in modern societies. The focus on the mineral vibranium may be equated to the way people today focus on various natural resources such as oil in order to power their various economies. The various rituals that exists among the people of Wakanda strengthen and unify the people of Wakanda in the same way some cultures and ways of life today unify various people. There is also a strong sense of patriotism among the people of Wakanda. This is very similar to the sense of patriotism that people in the US have today. The idea in the movie is that black people, and not just white people can be custodians of values that are inherent to Western culture.
Despite the positive representation of black people featured in Black Panther, there are some negative aspects of the movie. For example, one of the complaints is that mainstream media frequently features black people as extremely violent and incapable of handling situations without violence. In the movie, the standard for people is to fight over the throne. The fights shown in the movie are very violent and promote the stereotype that black people are usually violent. However, the movie is based on the theme of super heroism, which often features violence. This means that even though the movie may feature violence, when taken in context, the movie shows a generally positive side of black people.
An important theme in the movie is the theme of community. In the film, the community of the people in Wakanda exists and they all support each other as a community. They share the same values, the same customs and a strong culture. In this community, conflict is resolved by following the customs of the people that have existed for so long. The existence of the community and the strong sense of community among the people shows the importance of the representation of the communities of black people in the film. Towards the end of the film, Erik Killmonger, the main antagonist in the film reveals that living outside the community has made him feel alienated as a black person. Although he is later defeated, his perspective shows that communities of black people are stronger when they live as a community compared to when they live away from each other. This theme of community is in line with the ideas presented by Golf and Schroeter (2017) about minority experiences. Golf and Schroeter (2017) point out that it is important to show the experiences of black people and people from other minority communities without forgetting that not one community shares a single experience. Black Panther draws on this by showing Wakanda as a single unified community, but a community in which various members have different roles and experience different joys and challenges.
In conclusion, it is clear that the film Black Panther is an inciteful film in terms of showing ethnicity representation. The film exists at a time when there is some tension among people of different races. The film, however, manages to show an overall positive image of black people. At a time when black people have been ignored in the film industry or only shown stereotypically, the film is a welcome criticism of the Western film culture ideals. The film also serves as a source of positive influence for young people who are black by showing them that they too can play powerful roles in their various communities. The most important feature in the film, however, is community. The film shows how a community can thrive if people choose to stay together and respect their cultures.
IV. Works Cited
- Cooglar, R. (2018). Black Panther [DVD]. Marvel Studios.
- Goff, L., & Schroeter, C. (2017). Screening Race: Constructions and Reconstructions in Twenty-first Century Media – Editorial. Alphavile Journal Of Film And Screen Media, (13), 1-12.
- Mastro, D. (2017). Race and Ethnicity in U.S. Media Content and Effects. doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.122
- Tyree, T., & Jacobs, L. (2014). Can You Save Me?: Black Male Superheroes in Film. Spectrum: A Journal On Black Men, 3(1), 1-24.
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