Black Panther was officially unleashed last weekend, and by now, you’ve probably seen the record-breaking numbers. The third biggest four-day opening weekend in history. The biggest opening weekend ever for a movie helmed by a black director. The biggest solo superhero launch of all time. The biggest February opening weekend, leaving Deadpool in its dust. The list goes on.
In fact, unless you had the foresight to contribute to its gigantic pre-sale numbers, you were probably out of luck, as shows sold out across the nation, despite the fact that some theaters devoted all their screens to Marvel’s latest superhero saga.
What made Black Panther’s monstrous opening weekend so eye-opening wasn’t just how many people saw the movie, but how demographically friendly it was. According to Comscore, the film’s North American audience was the most diverse ever for a superhero movie, with African-Americans making up the biggest chunk of moviegoers. Women, who have historically shied away from comic-book tentpoles, also came out in full force, accounting for nearly half of all ticket sales.
People turned out in droves—often in cosplay or traditional African garb—howling in approval until the end credits rolled. Grassroots campaigns like #TheBlackPantherChallenge sprouted up across the country in an effort to help disadvantaged kids see the film in theaters. #WakandaForever, the film’s unofficial battle cry, was trending on Twitter all weekend long. Celebrities like Will Smith and Michelle Obama publicly lavished praised on the film and congratulated Ryan Coogler and co. on their historic achievement. And thanks to a coveted A+ on Cinemascore and a sparkling 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Black Panther will continue to chug along at the box office en route to becoming one of the most successful movies ever, and definitely the highest-grossing Marvel movie without the word “Avengers” in the title. As Shaun King pointed out: “It’s going to make well over a billion dollars, and may actually do so within a month.”
Though it’s only been out for less than week, it’s time to call it like it is: Black Panther is a full-blown cultural phenomenon. It’s the kind of outsize success rarely seen in Hollywood—a film that managed to live up to the tidal wave of breathless anticipation it rode in on, while transcending genre and penetrating the public consciousness like nothing else before it. It has transformed virtual unknowns like Letitia Wright and Winston Duke into overnight sensations, while solidifying the place of Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan atop the industry’s food chain.
As the first superhero blockbuster featuring an almost all-black cast, made by black filmmakers who chose to tell a predominantly black story, Black Panther is unlike anything we’ve seen before. “The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern-franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn’t really been seen before,” Coogler said of his film’s cross-cultural appeal. “You feel like you’re getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being a part of something new, which I think all audiences want to experience, regardless of whether they are of African descent or not.”
Black Panther feels like the culmination of a rising tide of films like Hidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton, *Girls Trip and Get Out, which fly in the face of the archaic notion that audiences won’t pay to see movies about people of color. It has sent a message that could influence studio decision-making for years to come. But will Hollywood receive it?
While it may take years to see the ripple effect of Black Panther fully actualized, there are a few indicators of a real paradigm shift on the horizon. In just a few weeks, Disney will release its fantasy saga A Wrinkle in Time, which was directed by Ava DuVernay, making her the the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget over $100 million. It also features minorities Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in prominent roles. Other upcoming big-budget movies toplined and directed by people of color include Michael B. Jordan’s Creed 2 and, of course, the inevitable Black Panther sequel. The future of movies is bright, and it also is finally starting to reflect the world in which we live.