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One year after Black Panther, Black History Month feels different

This Black History Month feels different to me. The coverage I have seen lacks the same level of emphasis on the black people who have done amazing and inspiring things throughout the past. The media has become distracted by the government shutdown, 2020 presidential candidates and award shows like the Grammys. The spotlight has been taken away from Black History Month.

One difference between last February and this February is the debut of the movie, “Black Panther.” “Black Panther” is a black superhero movie, following the identity crisis of T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. In the film, T’Challa becomes King of Wakanda after the murder of his father in a previous Marvel movie. However, he begins to struggle with his identity, the future of his nation as well as a civil war within his kingdom. It’s a story about finding yourself and building confidence.

It’s officially been a full year since the blockbuster movie hit theatres. “Black Panther” was the highest grossing movie of 2018 in the US and Canada, and the second highest worldwide, earning $700 million in North America, and $1.35 billion worldwide. This movie was Marvel’s most successful movie to date, and it’s been nominated for numerous awards, including seven Academy Awards.

This is Marvel’s first predominantly black film, and they chose a strong cast of actors. Boseman has also played other famous black pioneers like Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. The film also has a well-known black cast, from younger actors like Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o to veterans like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. Marvel also hired a young black director, Ryan Coogler. Coogler who also directed films like Creed and Fruitvale Station, made the movie come alive with his excellent screenwriting and directing.

However, this movie’s portrayal of black characters was even more significant. There were no harmful stereotypes, and each character was shown as strong and layered. This representation of black actors inspired pro-black sentiments all across the nation. People saw the film multiple times with friends and family. Children bought the action figures, costumes and coloring books. Some teachers even modeled some of their curriculums after the fictional country of Wakanda.

Race relations are generally a tenuous topic in America, with tensions rising every day. American media has always portrayed minorities negatively, specifically black people. We’ve been consistently depicted as servants, sidekicks or the villain. We’re consistently shown as punchlines, defiant troublemakers or one-dimensional characters, lacking depth and range. We’ve been mocked, hated and shamed. This is all a reflection of how the public actually sees us, and this perception of black people doesn’t stay in theatres. This projected image of black people in media flows into how we are viewed within the education system, the justice system, the corporate world and other important avenues of everyday life.

However, more and more movies today are reshaping the idea of the black character. “Black Panther” does an excellent job of redefining who we are and who we can be within American media. We don’t have to fit into the molds that have been set for us. The representation of positive characters like those in Black Panther encourages us to think differently about ourselves. And, through positive representation, we share a positive image of the black character.

Representation also produces curiosity. “Black Panther” inspires black people to see themselves differently, making them curious and excited to learn more about their history and heritage. It makes people confident in their culture.

I recommend we watch “Black Panther” every year on Feb. 1, just as a reminder of what we can be. The movie may not be real, but the ideas it presents are. Concepts like black pride, black intelligence, and black representation can shape how we view ourselves as people, and how the world should see us. “Black Panther” changed Black History Month last year. Hopefully, we can continue to get compelling movies in the future that continue to inspire black people for years to come.