When you work in pop culture for a living, you tend to look at things from slightly different angles than everyone else or, in some cases, focus on very specific elements of said things. It comes with the territory. Here’s one of those moments of fixation:
Black Panther came out this past weekend and grossed over $200,000 million at the box office making it the fifth largest film opening of all time. The business aspect of the movie is astounding unto itself, but the cultural impact to me is even more amazing. Female empowerment and African-American cultural respect all wrapped up in the package of a “comic book movie”.
Here’s where it hit home for me.
I grew up in the seventies and eighties and a young boy with blonde hair and blue eyes thanks to a mix of Polish immigrant and Irish stock/colonial American genes. When I was four years old, then seven years old, and then ten years old I saw Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. It had a profound impact on me for life. Luke Skywalker became my childhood hero.
My parents kept one of those books where you fill out questions at the end of each school year as a child to see where your brain is at during that part of your developmental life. It has questions like “your favorite food” and similar simple queries. In 1981, under “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I had written two simple words: Luke. Skywalker. (NOTE: I still have that book in storage somewhere.)
Luke was good. Luke was, to a ten year old, cool. Luke fought evil and did the right thing. All of these things were easy for me to relate to because Luke Skywalker looked just like me. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and was a caucasian human being. That connection was so strongly implanted into me that I would dress up as Luke as a child on more than one occasion for Halloween, and the excitement of my childhood fascination with a character would carry with me all the way to my forties.
Which leads me to this past weekend. You can read online about all of the different ways the movie Black Panther is having an impact on culture and (hopefully) the motion picture industry in general. For me, I loved it because I saw a bunch of ten year old kids in theaters that look nothing like me looking at T’Challa the same way I looked at Skywalker. As a person who knows how much the power of myth and positive role models and entertainment can impact a person, it makes me legitimately excited for an entire generation of African-American boys (and girls!) to grow up with something I had the privilege of being afforded as a child.
Congrats, kids. I got a knight. You got a king.
ADDED NOTE: I wonder is Martin Freeman realizes yet that he’s effectively the “Lando Calrissian” of this analogy.