- Superhero who died prematurely: US actor Chadwick Boseman was only 43 years old. (imago images / UPI Photo / JIM RUYMEN)
Chadwick Boseman played the lead role in “Black Panther”, a superhero film with almost exclusively black actors in front of and behind the camera. But it was a long way to go, says media scientist Marcus Stiglegger.
“Black Panther” was one of the big box office hits of 2018. US actor Chadwick Boseman played the leading role of King T’Challa. Now he has died at the age of 43. He was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago.
“Black Panther”, the first superhero film with almost exclusively black actors in front of and behind the camera, was an important step for Black Hollywood, explains Marcus Stiglegger. He is professor for film and television at the DEKRA University for Media. But it was a long way to get there.
Checkered and rather negative story
Stiglegger is reminiscent of the silent film era, when so-called blackfacing was widespread, that is: white actors played blacks and painted their faces black for it.
The film scholar explains that only very small supporting roles have actually been filled with African-Americans. It wasn’t until the 1960s that something changed: with Sidney Poitier, at least one African-American actor was able to establish himself.
From ‘Blaxploitation’ to ‘New Black Cinema’
In the 70s there were a number of Afro-American actors and actresses who, however, mostly had to play roles laden with clichés: “A lot of gangster milieu, prostitution, pimps, that is, pimps, and so on”. A phenomenon that in retrospect was called ‘blaxploitation’.
With the films by Spike Lee or John Singleton, a change set in that can still be felt today, explains Stiglegger: “The ‘New Black Cinema’ of the 80s explicitly addresses everyday life, the milieu and society in Afro-American neighborhoods in major American cities. “
The culture journalist Kemi Fatoba traveled to London for the premiere of Black Panther to see the almost exclusively black cast with a black audience. “Especially in Hollywood it happens so seldom that you see films with black people that don’t end tragically, where it’s not about oppression or racism, but where a love story is portrayed that ends positively and where you see black hero characters.” For months, “Wakanda Forever” became the battle cry in Fatoba’s circle of friends and on social media, “to celebrate everything that is beautiful about black culture and being black”.
A place like Wakanda, a wealthy and technologically advanced country in Africa, would otherwise never be seen in Hollywood. The death of Boseman at the time of the current protests against racism and police violence is therefore “another bad news that we didn’t need now,” says Fatoba. You can hear the whole conversation here: