Large parts of the movie were shot here in Atlanta and that’s just one of the reasons some are viewing it as a significant moment for African-American culture.
While there have been heavily anticipated superhero movies before — “Deadpool,” “Dawn of Justice: Batman vs Superman” — this movie is in a league of its own as Marvel’s first black superhero. It also features a predominantly black cast and has a black director.
“There has not been a moment like this in cinema ever,” Jonathan Gayles, who teaches African-American studies at Georgia State University, said. “Perhaps in particular black people. But I think this is an important moment for everybody.”
Atlanta also serves as the backdrop for the Wakanda kingdom. That fact adds another layer to the moment given Atlanta’s history as the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and role in the Civil Rights movement.
“The idea that Atlanta is known as the black mecca, I think Atlanta as a backdrop makes sense,” Gayles said.
But, there’s also financial reasons that played into the decision.
“Of course there are other practical reasons,” he said. “Like the logistical value of shooting in Atlanta and the tax breaks here as the city becomes a growing media hub.”
While Atlanta’s burgeoning cache in media has played a part, this moment has been in the works since 1966 when the king of Wakanda, a fictional country in Africa, first appeared the comic book universe.
But he ran into roadblocks.
When the civil rights group known as the Black Panther’s profile began to rise in the late 60’s to early 70’s, Marvel briefly changed the character’s name to Black Leopard. But it didn’t stick.
Gayles said the influence of the civil rights group on the character’s name shows politics have historically had an influence on his perception. That notion carries on even today.
“It would probably be foolish to deny the influence of the eight years of the Obama presidency on just the idea of the potential of black life,” Gayles said.
Black Panther the character continued to grow in popularity from his introduction to now. In 2016, he made his big screen debut in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Grace Gipson studied African-American culture in film and television at Georgia State and is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.
She said the inception of Black Panther faced the same questions of other superhero movies. How do you create a fake world, like Krypton for Superman, Gotham for Batman, or even Asgard for Thor?
Except this time, it was how to create Wakanda for Black Panther. Gipson said there was also another reason the African king’s movie took a while to create.
“I think people were underestimating the potential of a character like Black Panther and it what it could do for other characters to follow afterwards,” Gipson said. “And so it wasn’t given a chance.”
Until last fall, when the official trailer for the movie was released.
There was a line in the trailer that captivated youth advocate Alicia Best.
It was Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, telling T’Challa, played by Chadwick Bosman: “You get to decide what kind of king you are going to be.”
Best runs a nonprofit that serves African-American children in Griffin, Georgia. She raised over $800 online to take up to 100 7th through 12th graders to see the film at a private screening Sunday. So far, 83 kids are signed up to go.
She wants the kids to see the movies, because she wants Black Panther to be an example to them.
“I need them to see that they can decide from this point on, how things in their life go,” Best said.
Best isn’t alone. Gipson said this is a big moment for both black girls and boys.
“It gives them so many opportunities of potential of what they can be,” Gipson said. “The fact that you have this Wakandan king who is the ruler of a nation that has never been colonized and that he has this wealth, it’s needed.”
Not only does she think it’s needed, but it’s happening.
Black Panther has his own movie.
And several entertainment publications say it’s on track to have the biggest opening in February history.