If you haven't yet, go see "Black Panther." It is truly a fantastic film with a great score, spectacular filmography, perfect character dynamics, and of course Micheal B. Jordan.
People are getting excited about this movie simply because the film is refreshing audiences with diverse cultural icons. According to the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau, we are almost fifty-fifty male and female as a nation, and our population consists of 40% minority racial backgrounds.
However, minorities are not being appropriately represented in mass media. Before watching "Black Panther", I could look at an Avengers poster without a second thought. But now I wonder why the Marvel Universe is spearheaded by a coincidentally undiverse gang of heroes.
As a minority myself, I can attest to what it feels like being unable to connect with characters on the big screen. I may enjoy the movie but in hindsight, those films feel distant, like I am watching a reality unfold that could never be mine even hypothetically. Spider-Man, for example, was an incredible movie but I could never imagine myself in the frame its universe.
Are the underrepresented not destined for heroism, greatness, a happy ending? Of course, they are.
Films that narrowly feature all-white principle actors contribute to the phenomena of Double Consciousness. Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois argued that there are two competing identities that minorities see while living in a white-centric America. Living as a member of a non-dominant race creates a fracture in your sense of identity within that society. And watching films that feed into a white-centric America validate their fractured identities. One can be born and brought up in the states, but if they do not look the part, they can be treated like foreigners. Minorities feel like they are American but also people of color. "Black Panther" challenges this exclusion, presenting colored heroes in a major American film.
There is nearsightedness when featuring predominantly white characters in movies. These films socialize us into subconscious factions. They show us standards we cannot meet, and cultures we do not understand. Growing up with idols whom we can identify with allow us to see the beauty in ourselves and others.
Now let's take a look at Wakanda, the kingdom that is not only the most technologically advanced nation in the world but also the most isolated. It is interesting to watch "Black Panther" through a perspective that practically rewrites history. The most powerful country sits in the middle of Africa, prospering in isolation and under the facade of a 'third world country'. But why do they hide? The answer can be found in Marx's Conflict Theory and Berger and Luckmann's Social Construction Theory.
Wakanda's affluence is all due to the resource of Vibranium and geniuses like Princess Shuri who know how to utilize it. But the mineral itself does not have any real inherent value. Vibranium only prospers because the people of Wakanda value it's power. A power that has been socially constructed to hold value.
Social construction occurs in three steps; externalization, internalization, and objectivation. An agent advertises an object's value, the object takes on a reality of its own, and then we create an internal connection to that object. Social construction works up to the point where that object no longer needs advocacy; think diamonds, Louis Vuitton, and electricity. At no point in "Black Panther" is the audience given a list of exactly why Vibrarnium is so valuable. That is because we have socially constructed that rare natural resources and cutting-edge technology are valuable.
This also explains why Wakanda stays in hiding and why as an audience, we do not question it. Wakanda has a lot of resources and it's neighboring countries do not. These led to social constraints that can be explained by Marx's Conflict Theory. Marx argued that there is a perpetual struggle over limited resources and power throughout history. In oversimplified terms, this boils down to one class holding most of the power and another holding little, resulting in a conflict or revolution of some sort.
Think the French or American Revolutions. In this case, Wakanda holds a lot of valuable resources and there is an apparent discrepancy between their nation and neighboring ones. We see how this grows into injustice and revolt when Killmongerer starts his own uprising to bring down the infrastructure of Wakanda. Conflict occurs and then is followed by revolution, in which T'Challa decides to finally share the wealth of Wakanda with the world. This is a perfect example of Conflict Theory.
The success of this film will definitely open floodgates to more diversity in all facets of mass media. And despite being fictional, we as a nation can learn a lot from the story of Wakanda. This movie allows us to see a bridge between 'first-world' and 'third-world' countries. In the words of T'Challa, “We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe". Because in reality, any preconceptions we have about the rest world are as socialized as they are malleable.