The Real History Behind the Black Panther

HISTORY: Why is ‘Black Panther’ so important?

Adilifu Nama: What makes the Black Panther such a significant figure in American popular culture—as well as black popular culture—is its groundbreaking representation of blackness as more than a stereotypical and racist trope of inferiority. We have to keep in mind the historical context of the superhero’s first emergence—in 1966, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights and burgeoning black-power movement. That becomes important because in many ways [the emergence of a black superhero]…marks a racial transformation happening on a political and social level.

Talon fighter over Wakanda, from the movie Black Panter. (Credit: Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Everett)

What is the significance of the nation of Wakanda?

Wakanda symbolizes a wonderland of possibilities: What would have happened to a society not [affected] by the devastating impact of racism and colonialism? In that sense, the film is a beacon for the black imagination…what blackness could be in the future.

Why do you think this film resonated so widely before it was even released?

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