Commentary

'Black Panther' Opens Riding Strong Viral Marketing, WOM

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” opened last night amid strong word of mouth, rave reviews and stories that confirm earlier stories — including a Time cover by Jamil Smith — that’s it’s more than just a decidedly different Marvel movie because it features black superheroes.

“Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors,” Smith writes.

“Chadwick Boseman plays the title role in ‘Black Panther,’ an heir to the throne of the fictional African nation of Wakanda who possesses uncanny senses, strength and speed. With help from a female special-forces squadron, he protects his isolated, wealthy and technologically advanced kingdom from threats, including a villain played by Michael B. Jordan,” John Jurgensen and Ben Fritz wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week. The subhed reads: "A global marketing machine kicks into gear as opening-weekend estimates reach $150 million.”

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In an expansive essay in the New York Times last Sunday, Carvell Wallace contrasts “Black Panther” to other Hollywood efforts that have featured black superheroes, such as “Blade” and “Hancock” in which “the actor’s blackness seemed somewhat incidental. ‘Black Panther,’ by contrast, is steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness,” he writes

“‘It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,’ says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. These characters, she notes, ‘are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty’ — the usual topics of acclaimed movies about the black experience,” Wallace continues.

In Variety on Feb. 5, Brent Lang and Ricardo Lopez wrote a piece illustrating how the movie’s “grassroots marketing movement is unlike any other Marvel movie.”

“Passion for the film has spurred widespread fundraising efforts,” for one. "Frederick Joseph, a marketing consultant from New York City, recently created the #BlackPantherChallenge with the aim of raising $10,000 through a GoFundMe page to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem. Within days, he had surpassed the goal, raising more than $40,000. The hashtag took off on social media. Now there are over 200 campaigns, including in cities like Toronto, London and Ghana, he said.”

According to the page this morning, “over 400 GoFundMes have raised over $400,000, helping thousands of kids see the movie this month. Donations have come in from all 50 states and 40 countries around the world.”

In another example of its grassroots currency, a video of students at the Ron Clark Academy celebrating the news they’d be seeing Marvel’s “Black Panther” went viral early this month. 

“Their excitement was contagious, and it caught the eye of the film’s star, Chadwick Boseman. Boseman stopped by ABC’s ‘The View’ to chat with Whoopi, Joy, Sherri, and the crew, to talk about the impact of the film,” writes Britni Danielle for Essence. “‘The message is that it works to have a black cast,’ he said, rejecting the notions that black films don’t do well overseas. ‘It works that our stories can resonate, not only in this country, but throughout the world.’”

In yet another example cited by Wallace in the New York Times, in a Twitter video posted in December “three young men are seen fawning over the ‘Black Panther' poster at a movie theater. One jokingly embraces the poster while another asks, rhetorically: ‘Is this what white people get to feel all the time?’ There is laughter before someone says, as though delivering the punch line to the most painful joke ever told: 'I would love this country, too.’”

“And one can almost hear white conservatives harrumphing as they prepare to pontificate about ungrateful black people and their lack of country love. They will, by design, miss the poignancy in what the man said. And also the point,” writes Leonard Pitts Jr. for the Miami Herald in a piece whose hed calls the movie “a watershed in cultural history of African Americans.”

“That response to a simple action movie speaks to his — to our — alienation from the land of our birth, to the bitter disappointment of finding out that its large ideals are too small to include you.”

Still, it’s just a movie.

“Black Panther is great. But let’s not treat it as an act of resistance,” reads the headline on Khanya Khondlo Mtshali's piece in The Guardian. Citing all the hype surrounding the film, Khondlo Mtshali writes: “It’s tempting to imagine that ‘Black Panther’ will not only improve black representation in media, but radically change the state of our politics, too. But by conflating the film with the resistive efforts of grassroots activists and organizers, we risk disrespecting our radical traditions, which are increasingly being commodified by corporations whose interests have never been with the people.”

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