Black Panther is going to be a huge event for the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it’s released in 2018. The story of T’Chalia, the warrior king of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, will be an exciting new chapter for the MCU, after finally getting his onscreen debut with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.
The character will be played by Chadwick Boseman and the movie will be helmed by Creed director Ryan Coogler. It is also going to be the most ambitious and daunting project for young screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, who spoke eloquently during a recent interview with Mother Jones, where he explained why Black Panther will be of social importance in the representation of black heroes onscreen.
“Black Panther is a historic opportunity to be a part of something important and special, particularly at a time when African Americans are affirming their identities while dealing with vilification and dehumanisation. The image of a black hero on this scale is just really exciting. When I was a kid, I would change superheroes’ names: Instead of James Bond, I was James Black. Instead of Batman, I was Blackman. And I have a three-year-old son. My son will be five when Black Panther comes out. That puts it all into perspective for me.
“Historically, opportunity has been afforded to a limited pool of people, excluding people of color and women. That doesn’t diminish the talent or hard work of the people within that pool, but it does narrow the field of stories that have been told, and of the creative ideas and perspectives out there.
“And this problem compounds itself by limiting the number of people in the pipeline to attain the experience to do larger movies or get jobs so they can familiarize themselves with a studio head and get the opportunity to deliver and impress—or maybe direct a smaller movie. It will take a considerable amount of time to rectify. It’s very difficult because it starts at the top.”
Cole also discussed the aspects of cultural difference that fans hope to see play a large part in the finished film. Wakanda is a fictional nation, but is one that is located in Africa. As such, the country and its warrior king should be specific to the region, rather than simply being a depiction of a western idea of what the culture might be.
Cole also spoke about how it is important they portray a cultural narrative specific to Africa, as opposed to depicting merely a western idea of what an African Marvel movie might be and look like.
“I think approaching the movie from a perspective that is rooted in the cultures of the continent is important.
“I write characters focusing on them as human beings, and then you wrap them within a culture. So I think I can connect with him as a person with brown skin who’s viewed differently by the world.
“In terms of his culture, we’re thinking about where we are locating Wakanda within the continent, and what the people and history of that region are like. It’s a process of investigation to help inform the story at this point. But we are going to be engaged with consultants who are experts on the continent and on African history and politics.
“I think you try to extrapolate from the early civilisations and cultures of the continent, kind of looking for unique ways they set themselves apart from Western civilisations, and then pursue those avenues technologically and see where that takes you.”
Cole said he owes it to the Marvel Writer Program for placing him in the running for the Black Panther job. He fended off stiff competition in order to land the role of screenwriter.
“Having gone through the [Marvel] writer program, I knew Black Panther was in the pipeline and I knew they were big fans of my writing. But I had to compete with the other writers who were put up for it—no one hands out jobs.
“[The program] familiarized Marvel with my work and with me as a person. Being able to interact with [studio president] Kevin Feige and have him know who I am and know me as a person, and be able to then sit down and have a conversation about story with someone who’s familiar and comfortable is invaluable.”