So I have this friend who is seriously into comic books and cannot wait for the film version of Black Panther to come out in February 2018. He’s probably camped out in front of the theater right now. Not only is he a hardcore fan of the character, but he believes that the film could change the future of black cinema, sending it into an entirely different realm which will include more interesting, unique and challenging black films. However I think he’s expecting too much from just one film.
Needless to say, he wants Black Panther to be huge hit at the box office to disprove the naysayers, because its failure would mean the end of any further Black Panther films, as well as other black superhero films, and black films in general that strive to be different. But he has two major fears.
The first one is that, he’s afraid that black audiences will not come out to support the film; that even though black film-goers constantly complain that they’re tired of the same old stereotypes and plot lines that you see in most Hollywood black films, when a black film does come out that is different, black audiences don’t come out fully to support the film.
To that I answer what I have always said before – that audiences in general don’t go see a film because they’re obligated to see it. They go because they want to see the film. And there very well could be millions of black people, who, like my friend, can’t wait to see Black Panther. For me, I’ll be honest and say that Black Panther would be an obligation. Most likely, it’s a generational thing, but I’m not into superhero comic films, even though I do see them. But I look at Black Panther the way I would look at that last X-Men movie, or Batman vs Superman. In other words, like most recent superhero movies, I feel like I’ve seen it all before. Maybe I’ll get into it, but I most likely won’t.
Of course Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios, and company could produce a really fantastic trailer for “Black Panther” that would make me say, “Now that I have to see!” Anything is possible. But for now, Denzel Washington in a western – “The Magnificent Seven” – is at the top of my “Must See” list. “Black Panther” I’ll get to one day. But that’s just me. Most of you reading this are most likely the opposite. That’s fine as well.
But my friend’s other main concern is China; he’s worried that the film will not open in that country at all. Though superhero and other big tent-pole Hollywood movies like the “Transformers” franchise of films, as well as “Warcraft,” have done extremely well in China, his worry here is that a Black Panther may be seen as an attractive *buy* for Chinese distributors and censors, given the nation’s history of questionable depictions of black people in their media in the past, their seeming reluctance to see anything with black characters in them (my friend likes to point to that infamous China release poster for “Star Wars” in which John Boyega and other characters of color were not included), as well as the fact that few, if any black films have ever played in China (However to be clear, we are talking about mainland China, not Taiwan or Hong Kong, where black films like even “Daughters of the Dust” have screened).
But is it really necessary for “Black Panther” to open in China? Does it really matter?
First of all, why should any film get “Chinese approval” before it can be considered a success? Most Hollywood or Western films don’t play in China anyway, primarily because of the country’s strict quota on how many non-Chinese produced films can open in there every year. But a film doesn’t have to open in China to be a success.
Take for example “Deadpool” which has grossed over $775 million worldwide to date ($413 million of that came from international box office); it is currently the fifth highest grossing film this year, but it didn’t open in China at all. It was a huge box office hit in the UK, France, Australia, Russia, Germany South Korea, Spain and Mexico, among other countries. It even did extremely well in countries you wouldn’t expect, such as the United Arab Eremites, Kenya, Ethiopia and even Vietnam. So who needs China? Why can’t “Black Panther” do the same?
Then again Marvel could decide to push for “Black Panther” to be released in China. There are currently 1.4 billion people in the country, compared to 316 million in the U.S., so, technically, with that large of a population, some of them would surely go see “Black Panther,” even if only out of curiosity. There are comic book fans in China. It may not make “Warcraft” money, but it could earn something significant enough that would add to the overall worldwide box office for the film. And since overseas box office is what truly makes or breaks a film financially these days, “Black Panther” will need to open in as many countries as possible to be considered a box office smash!
This will certainly put the widely-held industry belief that “black films don’t sell overseas” to the test. It’s not often that a high profile, mega-budgeted Hollywood studio movie, starring, directed and written by black people gets made in the first place. So “Black Panther” could mark new territory internationally.
But, all in all, I don’t think my friend has anything to worry about. With the popularity of the Black Panther superhero, and the devoted following the character has, it’s pretty close to a safe bet at the box office. Even I might go see it.