Since the dawn of the Marvel age, there hasn’t been a Marvel release that hasn’t been declared historic. But wanton hyperbole disclaimers notwithstanding, Black Panther is a movie that’s actually going to change some things–things important and things mundane. And it’s worth a pause from The Ankler’s vitriol festival to take note.
First, there’s the ceiling-shattering about the type of film this is, the casting, etc. All worth noting. But to me, the more important thing is what comes after. This is not an eat-your-vegetables, box-checking, begrudged project, reluctantly produced by Disney/Marvel and then dumped on the market so they can petulantly say, “See we tried that! Will you leave us alone now?!”
What makes Black Panther remarkable is not just the African-American helmer and headliners, but that they are going for gold with every piece of this. This movie could change lots of things not because it broke a ceiling for the sake of breaking a ceiling, but because they used this moment to make a great, broad, crowd-pleasing movie; to not just show that this ensemble could make a movie, but that they could make a movie that people will line up to see.
This will be, as best I can tell–correct me if I’ve missed one–the first major movie featuring an African-American cast that will open to a crossover audience. Normally these movies open with something like a 90 percent African-American audience.
This time it will be something like 20-African American, 80-everyone else. This is not a niche movie, it’s a movie for everyone that happens to be led by a different looking group of people.
This time, as one Ankler friend told us, “They made a great movie that they had to promote everywhere and it will blow down the doors of the perception that overseas audiences are racist and won’t see black-helmed movies. All the white, male, middle aged distribution execs, who normally are playing it safe, looking to meet their ultimates and make their bonuses. will be forced to spend money to distribute these movies.”
The distributors won’t ever again be able to just wave off one of these projects, sight unseen, dismissing them with the line that overseas audiences won’t come out for black leads, and have an excuse for not even trying. From now on, they’ll either have to try or they’ll have work slightly harder to come up with a new excuses.
And they are doing this in February, no less. Looking at the calendar, every other studio decided it was pointless to even try and release a major movie in the first ten weeks of the year. Say what you will about Disney, where others saw a deadzone, they saw opportunity.
The miracles that you can accomplish by making a good movie.
And that’s, in the end, the basic problem with this industry. All the talk about decline, all the reasons why nothing can change, nothing can be done to – they all fall to dust in the face of a great movie that looks like something people have never seen before and are excited to go to. Yes, if you’ve got King Arthur, your options are limited. If your entire slate is King Arthur times 15, it certainly looks like an industry in free fall.
But for all the problems, there are still very few very good movies that don’t find audience. If you look at the 2017 flop parade, there are not too many noble failures riding that float.
And it has to be said that Marvel, now being in every kind of winning-streak, record territory, has shown the miracles you can accomplish by having an executive who loves and understands the genre and just wants to tell great stories. There’s no focus group or algorithm that could have gotten you in the past few years to Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, or for that matter Spiderman Homecoming and Black Panther, not to mention a Thor techno-comedy.
What’s so impressive about Disney’s dating is that it’s not even about when’s the right moment to slip it in. They have just decided to own the calendar, on the assumption that if they make films people are dying to see, the world will conform to them. From now until the end of summer, every few weeks it’s going to be another Disney earthquake the the rest of the studios grabbing for crumbs in between: 2/16 – Black Panther. 3/9 – Wrinkle in Time. 5/4 – Avengers Infinity. 5/25 – Solo. 6/15 – Incredibles 2. 7/16 – Ant Man and Wasp.
I’ve find plenty to criticize Disney for in their consolidation and down-sizing of the industry. But in terms of the execution and unapologetic domination of the box office, while it lasts, it’s an impressive thing.
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