As a marketer, I think there is a lot we all can learn from the recent movie, Black Panther. First, we can gain an understanding as to why some Black people are so excited about this film. Second, we can discuss why some White groups are boycotting this film. Third, we can use the Marvel Universe as a lesson in diversity and inclusion. And finally, we can discuss how the story is universal and should connect to a broad audience.
A lot of people are amazed at the excitement many Blacks have for this movie. Why are Blacks cheering, wearing Afrocentric clothes, buying out theaters for children to see this film, and why are church groups going in groves to a film that is violent? Well, the answer is simple. It is what we call great marketing and great segmentation. Marvel looks at its fans and segments the market in many ways but make no mistake, segmentation doesn’t mean exclusion. It just means that there are primary audiences they are trying to bring into the Marvel Franchise. Take Wonder Woman, for instance, women made up 52% of the movie going audience. It was the first DC or Marvel movie to claim a female majority. But don’t get it twisted, the other 48% is very important to the DC franchise. The movie needs men as it looks to expand its audience. Not only from a dollar and cents perspective but also from a social perspective. If men had not attended, it might impact the number of Wonder Woman films being green-lit. Moreover, men and boys would not get the opportunity to cheer and support a female lead. This is important culturally where the way we view women is shifting and men play an important role in that shift. Similarly, many Blacks are excited because this is the first major studio film with a black lead character, Black director, writers, and predominantly Black cast, which is something to be excited about. However, if Whites decide not to attend, that may impact the financial success of this movie and the plight of future films. It may also have an impact on how Whites accept Blacks in society as well as within the Marvel Universe.
Which brings me to the fact that some people are actually boycotting the movie. From Rush Limbaugh to Breitbart to some regular folks as well. But to Marvel’s credit, they didn’t market this as a film as a “Black Film” designed for Black people only. And this wasn’t altruistic because like Wonder Woman, Marvel needs people other than Blacks to go to this movie; they are trying to make money and expand the franchise, not limit it. And, why wouldn’t they? Black Panther is as much part of the Marvel Universe as Ant Man, DeadPool and The Guardians of The Galaxy. So, what is the boycott about? Is it about “the way” Blacks are celebrating this film? Is there something wrong with having pride that part of your story, your history, your heritage is being celebrated? I contend that there is not. As long as people are not denigrating others, there should be nothing offensive about having pride. Is it “the why” people are celebrating? Does having Black writers, a Black Director, a Black Superhero, and a predominantly Black cast make other uncomfortable? Really, one movie out of the 18 in the Marvel Universe and it makes one uncomfortable? Could it possibly be that these opportunities for Blacks somehow says there will be less opportunities for others? If so, I just don’t buy it. Or could it be that since the images of Blacks in media are still overwhelmingly negative, the world is not ready for an alternative viewpoint that shows Blacks as in charge, intelligent, wealthy, and beautiful? The way Blacks are celebrating or the why Blacks are celebrating should in no way deter others from enjoying all the Marvel Universe has to offer.
Another reason this movie is important is because just like DC’s Wonder Woman, the cultural impact or cultural exchange is important in a society trying to grapple with race relations. It can’t hurt to learn a bit about other races. It can’t hurt to understand some of their challenges and concerns. It can only serve to provide context for the characters in the movie but also context for some of the issues surfacing each day in our daily lives. So, what do we say to people who say the film is racist or anti-white? There are scenes where there are jokes made about White people. For example, Shuri says to her brother, The Black Panther, “another broken white boy for us to repair.” While it is an off-handed remark, this line is significant to the ongoing story of independence and self-determination. But it is important to note that there are way more scenes where Blacks are fighting Blacks versus making quips about Whites. Why can’t there be an acknowledgment of some of the tensions between Whites and Blacks without it being racist? I know, that would lead to discussion versus condemnation. Black Panther is part fantasy and part a reflection of society. The filmmakers would be remiss to address issues within the Black community without addressing issues between Blacks and Whites; this film does both. There is a lot of diversity in the Marvel Universe and there is a lot to learn about that diversity. Marvel has the XMEN to say that the world has room for people who might feel like misfits, DC has Wonder Woman to say women are powerful and smart as well and Black Panther is just another example of that diversity.
Finally, Black Panther is a Universal story. We have a superhero who is not from America who can help save the world. And we have a villain or two who wants to destroy or rule the world. As a marketer, Marvel has done a good job of trying to speak to various demographics without alienating their core audience by telling these universal stories. Ones where a host of people can identify and support. Many of the issues in this film could apply to other Marvel characters. We see family squabbles similar to Thor and Loki; We have the debate on how Wakandans should use their powers akin to Professor X vs Magneto. And we have the separatist country trying to decide how it will engage with the rest of the world similar to DC’s Wonder Woman. Black Panther addresses many universal issues as well as issues important to Black people. Let us hope that the Marvel Universe continues to be more inclusive than many of our own lives. Or better yet, let’s hope our segregated lives are enriched by the diverse universe displayed on the big screen. And maybe, just maybe we might better understand the superpowers that can be found in diversity and inclusion. Just Something To Ponder…