Salamishah Tillet in The New York Times:
“I suppose neither of us is used to the spotlight,” a dapper T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda, says upon meeting Natasha Romanova, a.k.a. the Black Widow, in “Captain America: Civil War.” A few scenes later, a recently orphaned and vengeful T’Challa, swapping his bespoke blue suit for a full-body bulletproof one, reappears as a new Marvel movie superhero. The prince will have to live with the attention: Even before its Feb. 16 release, “Black Panther” smashed box-office records, beating out “Captain America: Civil War” on first-day advance ticket sales and surpassing “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” to become Fandango’s top-selling superhero movie in history. Perhaps even more impressive, the film is also outpacing its cinematic counterparts in cultural reach. “I’ve been waiting all of my life for ‘Black Panther,’” said DJ BenHaMeen, host of FanBrosShow, a weekly podcast on “urban geek” culture. “That said, I know where I was, the exact street in Houston and the exact time on Oct. 28, 2014, when Marvel officially announced that they were doing the movie.”
Not since Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” in 1992 has there been so much hype and hope for a movie among African-American audiences. From special group outings planned by excited fans to crowdfunding campaigns to ensure children can see it, “Black Panther” is shaping up to be a phenomenon. In December, a viral video of two African-American men excited to see the movie’s poster with its all-star black cast — “This is what white people get to feel like ALL THE TIME?!!!!” one man wrote on Twittered — seemed to capture the anticipation, garnering more than 2.5 million views.
What has audiences so eager this time is in part the combination of an auteur African-American director (Ryan Coogler of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”), a heavyweight cast (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker) and a soundtrack co-produced by a rap superstar (Kendrick Lamar), all working on one of the most popular franchises in Hollywood. But the excitement has also been fueled by the origin story of the African superhero. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, making his debut in Marvel’s Fantastic Four No. 52 in 1966. He went on to appear in Avengers titles and took his first star turn in Jungle Action No. 5 in 1973. He had his ups and downs: his own series largely penned by Kirby, a cancellation in 1979 and a return in the 1980s. From 2005 to 2009, he was the subject of another series, this one written by the filmmaker Reginald Hudlin (“Marshall”). In 2016, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a new series of comic books, while Joe Robert Cole and Mr. Coogler worked on the script.