Disney’s black-helmed blockbuster just became the fourth biggest U.S. movie and made the global top 10 box office list.
Hollywood should heed “Black Panther’s” roar.
The first mainstream superhero movie fronted by an almost entirely black cast is poised to earn $1.3 billion at the global box office after the three-day Easter weekend pushed its total scratch to $1.279 billion to date.
That’s sent the Disney and Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster hurtling past two more box office milestones. It’s become the fourth-biggest movie in the U.S. of all time with domestic ticket sales hitting $652.5 million, Deadline reports, which shoots it past “Jurassic World’s” $652.3 million. And “Black Panther’s” almost $1.3 billion global earnings bumped “Frozen,” which earned just over $1.276 billion, to enter the top 10 movies of all time.
Director Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster stars Chadwick Boseman (“42,” “Get On Up”) as T’Challa, the Black Panther, and king of the hidden African country of Wakanda that is secretly more technologically advanced than the rest of the world. And even as this superhero protects his country, he’s protected in turn by some powerful black women, including his STEM-genius sister (breakout star and new favorite Disney princess Letitia Wright), his love interest/top spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and an all-female army led by “The Walking Dead” warrior Danai Gurira.
The film’s record-breaking run began when it raked in $241.96 million in North America over its four-day opening weekend beginning Feb. 16, making it the biggest February movie of all time, as well as the highest-grossing film by a black director in history. (It’s also the second-biggest Marvel movie after “The Avengers.”) In fact, it made more money those first four days than any movie in North American box office history — except for 2016’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which made $288.1 million and was also fronted by an African American (John Boyega) and a woman (Daisy Ridley).
It scratched another $21 million the following Tuesday, making it the highest Tuesday gross of any Marvel movie, Deadline reported. Marvel boasted that it has the best Rotten Tomatoes score (Certified Fresh at 97%) of any Marvel Cinematic Universe film or superhero movie.
Forbes also noted that “Black Panther” bucks the pre-Christmas blockbuster trend by opening with these record-breaking numbers in February — which is also Black History Month — compared to heavyweights like “Titanic” (Dec. 19, 1997), “Avatar” (Dec. 18, 2009) and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Dec. 18, 2015), which all hit on the same day, more or less.
To celebrate, Disney announced that it was donating $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club of America’s youth STEM programs, as tech skills are an important plot point in the film. And director Coogler posted a heartfelt thank you note to fans for their support on the Marvel Studio’s official Instagram page.
“Deep down we all hoped that people would come to see a film about a fictional country on the continent of Africa, made up of a cast of people of African descent,” he wrote. “Never in a million years did we imagine that you all would come out this strong.”
“It still humbles me to think that people care enough to spend their money and time watching our film,” he added. “But to see people of all backgrounds wearing clothing that celebrates their heritage, taking pictures next to our posters with their friends and family, and sometimes dancing in the lobbies of theaters — often moved me and my wife to tears.”
“As a black filmmaker featuring black stars — the movie is 98% driven by an African story and African American cast — Ryan Coogler has now broken that barrier of making a movie that really shatters box office records,” Joe Neumaier, movie journalist and film critic for New York’s WOR, told Moneyish. “Up until now, there were things like ‘Scary Movie’ [directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans] and ‘Inside Man’ [directed by Spike Lee] that made a lot of money, and ‘Creed’ [another Coogler film] made money, but nothing approaching this.”
African-Americans usually make up just 15% of superhero movie audiences, but more than twice that many (37%) filled “Black Panther” seats over the opening weekend. The historically diverse audience was also 35% Caucasian and 18% Hispanic. And 45% of all ticket buyers were female — who usually make up just 35% to 40% of a superhero flick’s opening weekend sales — no doubt drawn to the mighty warrior women of Wakanda.
“‘Black Panther’ is telling black stories from a black point-of-view in ways that have obviously captivated a wildly diverse audience, and it shows that diversity does sell, which is something we have been documenting for years,” Darnell Hunt, the dean of social science at UCLA and coauthor of the annual Diversity in Hollywood Report, told Moneyish. “This just shows that you can have a black director, you can have a black cast and crew, and do extremely well. And I would argue the same is true for other underrepresented groups as well.”
Whereas movie studios have considered films featuring people of color as “niche” projects, it turns out that multicultural casts make more money at the box office. The 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, which studied 200 major motion pictures released in 2014, found that the eight films released that year with a 41% to 50% minority cast scored a median global box office gross of $122.2 million, compared to the 55 films with minorities making up less than 10% of the cash earning less than half that at $52.6 million.
“People want to see their images and their stories on the screen,” Hunt said. “I mean, 40% of the American public now is people of color, so it’s just good business.”
But change is slow. As of 2015, white actors outpaced people of color nearly three to one among film leads, according to the Hollywood Diversity Report, as well as almost four to one among film directors, and more than seven to one among film writers.
“The sad truth is, Hollywood is still not structured to produce this type of film routinely,” said Hunt, noting that “Black Panther” was blessed with the financial backing and marketing muscle of both Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Executive suites are still dominated by white men – something that the Time’s Up movement has shined a spotlight upon. And until we see more people of color and more women in executive suites making decisions to green-light these types of films, that’s when we’ll see more films like this.”
Such as Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” starring Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Gugu Mbatha-Raw that made history with its March 8 opening weekend by taking the No. 2 spot with $33 million. Who was number one? “Black Panther,” making this the first time that the top two movies were both helmed by black directors with mega budgets of more than $100 million. And the Black Panther will return with his sister Shuri in “Avengers: Infinity War” on May 4.
But “Black Panther’s” success is poised to be a game changer – especially since it has transcended even box office success to become an epic cultural phenomenon. Former First Lady Michelle Obama praised the movie on Twitter, writing, “Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen.”
Congrats to the entire #blackpanther team! Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen. I loved this movie and I know it will inspire people of all backgrounds to dig deep and find the courage to be heroes of their own stories.
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) February 19, 2018
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta even jokingly offered flights to Wakanda in a Tweet that went viral with more than 16,000 retweets and 35,000 likes.
— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) February 19, 2018
And social media has been overrun with photos of families and friends wearing “Black Panther” cosplay and traditional African dress to see the movie, with many posting pix of themselves crossing their arms in the Wakanda warrior stance under the hashtag #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe.
— Neysha (@La_Ney_sha) February 7, 2018
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe being able to see a princess that LOOKS like me and is smart, strong, brave, pretty and silly like me. Can’t wait to share this movie with #FlintKids #blackpanther #WakandaForever pic.twitter.com/q1v3setVOH
— Mari Copeny (@LittleMissFlint) February 16, 2018
Getting excited about our #BlackPanther @_MeetTheCritics #BlackPantherLive event on @colourfulradio tonight #Live at 7pm & came across this inspirational #photograph #WakandaForever @letitiawright pic.twitter.com/XeFm8pHRw4
— A Londoner's London (@LondonersLondon) February 16, 2018
“African-Americans have traditionally been either omitted from a majority of Hollywood films, or cast in secondary or demeaning or dehumanizing types of roles – and this film is almost an anecdote to that long history of misrepresentation of African Americans in American cinema,” explained Hunt. It’s the superhero movie African Americans have been waiting for all of their lives, similar to the way women felt watching Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman” last year, or the rise of Daisy Ridley’s jedi-in-training Rey in the new “Star Wars” movies.
“Superheroes are role models that people look up to, from children to adults, and not having had representations of superheroes of color means that you’re constantly feeling like you’re in the margin,” Nancy Wang Yuen, author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” told Moneyish. “Now for the first time, kids and people in the black community can say, ‘This is us. We are the heroes.’ And there are also multiple heroes you can choose from.”
Not only is the fictional African country of Wakanda wealthier and more high-tech than any First World nation (a perfect rebuke for those “sh-thole countries” comments), but the people have never been colonized or enslaved, and so the heroes here aren’t victimized the way the protagonists in films depicting slavery or the Civil Rights movement often are. They’re regal, loving, intelligent, funny and powerful.
“This is very uplifting for African Americans, and it inspires African Americans of all generations,” said Hunt. “That’s one of the reasons why people are seeing this movie as a communal event. In the black community in particular, this is going to be one of those films people go and see in groups, that people are going to buy when it comes out [on DVD and Blu-Ray], and something people will watch for years. They want to celebrate. They want to be a part of it.”
— Erica Johnson (@ericalinn__) February 17, 2018
is the unbridled joy at seeing us in dynamic roles, from behind the camera to in front of it as another level of Black cinematic history to be made this year pic.twitter.com/5pmwOX2MW3
— Christopher Smith (@infinitewords14) February 6, 2018
The film’s role as a cultural milestone isn’t all that’s selling tickets, however. It’s actually a great movie from a director known for incredible storytelling, including 2013’s Sundance sensation “Fruitvale Station” and 2015’s “Creed” – which both starred “Black Panther’s” nuanced villain Michael B. Jordan.
“It just feels so inclusive. It’s an action-adventure party that we’re all invited to,” said Neumaier. “You revel in it for 2 hours and 15 minutes, and where a lot of these action/adventure movies and comic book movies tend to exhaust you, you come out of ‘Black Panther’ invigorated and adrenalized and excited for the place that you’ve been in, and the places it can go — both narratively in any sequels, and where it can go in our culture.”
This article was originally published on Feb. 20, 2018, and has been updated with the most recent box office figures.
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