Nerd Factor: Fear of a Black Panther Planet

Dr. Mike Robinson, LC Communication Professor~

Earlier this month, the Rotten Tomatoes review site headed off an attempt to sabotage the scores of Black Panther and committed itself to eliminating hate speech in viewer comments. This weekend, reports surfaced of a number of falsified stories about black audience members attacking white viewers at showings of Black Panther.  Spread across social media, these accounts repurposed or altered other images already on the internet to imply that physical violence was being rained down upon white viewers who had dared to see a movie not for them. What is the cause of all of this?  Simple, it’s the fear of a Black Panther planet.

There are, in some unpleasant corners of this world, people who simply cannot stand the idea of anyone who is not a white male doing well, even fictional ones.  And like Wonder Woman before it, Black Panther has threatened those prejudicial few by offering the ultimate measure of success in Hollywood—a big opening weekend box office. In fact, as of this writing, Box Office Mojo has the movie making the fifth largest opening weekend of all time.   

Particularly threatening to such bigotry is simple mathematics and commonsense observation.  There are not enough black people to be driving this phenomenon alone.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am not downplaying the importance of this character to black viewers.  In fact, in a moment, I’ll celebrate that very thing.  What I’m saying is that the Panther has an even broader appeal.  For example, when I attended the film, I was too excited about seeing the movie and anxious to get a good seat to take a headcount, but I saw a plenty of white people there.  They seemed to be the majority of the audience.

black panther

Illustration by Genevieve Griffin

That’s why the trolls are creating these particular kinds of fake attack stories.  Presumably anything could be made up to convince people not to see Black Panther.  But they’ve gone right for racist fears about black on white violence.  They don’t want their fellow white folks to start liking T’Challa and his friends.  That could *sarcastic gasp* lead to the acceptance of black people in real life!

As disappointing as these stories are, I prefer to see this all as a successful continuation of the Black Panther’s original mission.  Not his fictional mission.  Wakanda will always be in danger.  Rather, I mean his thematic mission.  

When the Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, he was immediately a challenge to just about every bad stereotype about Africans out there.  The Panther was presented as an intellectual on the level of Mister Fantastic, the smart guy of the Marvel Universe.  The Panther was skilled enough to battle the entire team in a display of his superheroic aptitude.  And the nation of Wakanda was revealed to be an unrivaled technological wonder disguised as a primitive society.  In short, the Black Panther was amazing from the get go.

In creating the very first black superhero, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave a part of our country and the world a heroic protagonist who finally looked like them.  But they also gave that to everyone else as well.  Marvel has a long tradition of social progressivism.  Their record is not always perfect, but the Black Panther is a success story that is still proving the racists wrong even today.