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Why UMBC needs more films like “Black Panther”

“Black Panther” is a smash hit, having broken numerous records and risen to the spot of the ninth-highest-grossing movie of all time domestically. The latest entry in Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe features its first African-American lead, but the film’s takeaways run far beyond its positive representations of black protagonists. On UMBC’s campus, showing movies that present such important messages should be a priority.

“Black Panther” has been applauded for its diverse cast. The film’s black characters are the most prominent positive figures, with T’Challa, guardian-king of Wakanda, standing at the helm. “He was the first … representation of an African hero that’s on a wide-scale feature,” says Isaac Kagnew, a freshman majoring in information systems. “I don’t know, it feels official.”

Many black students feel the same way. Superheroes have always had a special cultural significance, representing paragons of humanity. Seeing a black man embody that ideal is affirming for many. Charra Wudtee, a senior studying economics, agrees with this. She delves deeper into what she found meaningful in the movie: “It kind of represents Africa in a way, and there are these dilemmas of black characters having to think about … ‘Well how much do I give for the black community?’”

Along with its positive, thoughtful depictions of black characters, the highly capable women in “Black Panther” play integral parts in the story, bolstering the progressive messages it communicates.

Wudtee appreciates this facet of the film’s diversity as well. “There’s a smart black scientist woman and very strong female leads,” she says. “So, for me as a black woman, that’s something I relate with.” In addition to its inspiring diversity, “Black Panther” has garnered critical acclaim for telling a nuanced story, pitting the titular hero against a villain with sympathetic motives.

Jessica Christian, a freshman majoring in physics and mathematics, was especially impressed by the way the film’s antagonist was handled. “The thing about Killmonger’s perspective is that he’s right,” she says. “But… they make him despicable. He has no respect for human life, but that’s the only reason you don’t root for him.”

Killmonger’s moral complexity cuts against the grain in a genre dominated by clear-cut good guys and bad guys. The change is a welcome one. Conflicts without easy answers and characters painted in shades of gray are important, especially with the contentious political and ideological differences that divide the United States today.

Regarding the message, Sierra Reid, a senior majoring in business technology and administration, believes the film has a lot to offer students on UMBC’s campus. Just taking the time in general… no matter what political side you are — right or left — to kind of sit back and try to understand the other side and where they’re coming from and why,” she says.

“Black Panther” offers a thoughtful take on the superhero genre, packing social takeaways and sheer entertainment value in a one-two punch. In the process, it shows that one need not be sacrificed for the other.

The Student Events Board should take heed. Films shown on campus, as part of Weekly Movies or otherwise, can make for eye-opening events without becoming preachy. With movies like “Black Panther,” SEB should look to gather people for a couple of hours to watch something that inspires them to talk for dozens more.