Doc Hoff’s Blog Blog Project | “Marvel’s Advancement of Representation: Black Panther’s Revolution” by Charna Flam

Photo by Elijah O'Donell on Unsplash

Continuing my Blog Blog Project here at Medium, I’m pleased to publish a student blog from a University of Delaware student I’ve had in several classes, Senior Communication major Charna Flam. Here, she links media corporate ownership with the lack of diversity in film and entertainment, pointing to the film Black Panther as a potential harbinger for more inclusive content.

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Entertainment in film, television, and literature, has the ability to persuade and impact its audience’s perspective on the world they live in. Throughout college, I have learned, in depth, about the effects of media and the importance of corporate ownership in media; Dr. Hoffman recently explained the negative effects of media corporate ownership, including its silencing of diverse voices, and then mentioned the unprecedented accomplishments of the recently released film, Black Panther.

Entertainment is a mirror and window to our society, and we need to reflect and display all aspects of our society. Black Panther, a ground-breaking film, successfully portrays Black culture and also sheds a realistic view of race in America while creating a very positive portrayal of Africans in Marvel’s fictional universe. This entertaining film for the masses creates an inspirational foundation for minorities to voice their stories.

All children deserve to believe they can save the world…”, said Fredrick Joseph, a citizen who created the #BlackPantherChallenge to fund young people to see Black Panther. Black Panther is a film that reflects black culture providing positive images, and will create a source of encouragement for young children around the world. Globally and nationally people are funding young people and native Africans to see this inspiring film. Marvel Studios used a predominantly Black cast, a Black director, Black screenwriters, Black costume and production designers, and a Black executive producer. The filmmakers focused on every detail in the film, to strengthen the representation of Black culture to mass audiences.

The film has been called a “love letter” to black culture, embracing natural hair and celebrating African tribes through costume design, but more importantly, illustrating the fictional vision of social liberation through the depiction of Wakanda. One of its central messages is the emphasis on atypical positive images around technological mastery, successful self-government, and strong familial bonds and structures. The depiction in this film contrasts with the common negative portrayal of Africa and African-Americans and the stereotypes exhibited for entertainment. The “mass audience” film, while entertaining, is an informative, inspiring story with a ground-breaking approach to portraying Black culture. It may be the beginning of a transformation in the entertainment industry with commercial success that could inspire more African-American centered films — without having that be its defining characteristic. Marvel’s fantasy world celebrates Black culture without presenting a monolithic view of black culture. The film is a representation of diverse voices in society and within black communities worldwide.

Since the 2015 Oscar Nominations, “#OscarsSoWhite” shined a spotlight on the lack of diversity and has provoked a revolution of greater, more realistic yet positive representation of minorities throughout media. In her acceptance speech in the 2018 Oscars, Frances McDormand let her last two words be “inclusion rider,” resulting in many a Google search for the term associated with demanding more diversity in film and entertainment. We see some progress in mainstream media, where diversity is slowly making its way to the forefront. Yet in an attempt to produce content that reflects diversity and Black protagonists, minorities still take the backseat and become intertwined within White culture, rather than being the lead in their own narrative. For example, Detroit, The Help, and Hidden Figures are good examples of these types of stories. In Black Panther along with other recent content like Atlanta, Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin, Master of None, and Moonlight, these vehicles for entertainment change the perspective and elevate the revolution to reflect accurate representation; inclusive content is no longer an anomaly in the world of entertainment. As Carla Richardson explained, people are not fighting for diversity but rather a balanced demonstration of our diverse society, rather than writing in the “token minority” character.

Media and entertainment inform me, and has had a great influence on my world view. As we learned in class about the “Big Six” large corporations, and their positive and negative effects, I sat there disappointed knowing that there’s an ability to silence diverse voices. Being privileged enough to see clear, mostly positive, and diverse depictions of people like me represented all over entertainment makes me a part of the masses who gains information from entertainment that mirrors my ideas about the real world.

Media act as both a window and mirror to our society. It is crucial to accurately show all aspects of our society in order to better serve all audiences. Going forward, similar to Black Panther, we should encourage and support the under-represented, to be more accurately included in what we see when we look through “the window.” We should all work to ensure that our media are portraying society’s diversity with accuracy and inclusiveness. As I sat in a completely sold-out movie theatre, I looked around the room and watched who walked through the door; the audience included all races, ages, genders. We anticipated a united respect for another culture in Black Panther’s revolutionary film.

Charna Flam is a Senior Communication major at the University of Delaware, with minors in Advertising, English, and Political Communication. Her blog was voted best by her peers.