This year at Comic-Con the massive crowds spilling across downtown San Diego were peppered with shirts emblazoned with three deafening words, in a banner year for diversity at the pop culture conference: “Black Heroes Matter.”
After spending a whirlwind weekend pressing the flesh in his first trip to Comic-Con, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman was delighted by the grassroots geek campaign. The actor, director, and writer isn’t afraid to use his own social media to highlight issues of representation in Hollywood and the Black Lives Matter movement, two causes that overlapped Saturday as thousands of people flocked to the annual confab.
Hours ahead of Marvel’s highly anticipated MCU panel a group of creators, media, and fans assembled a BLM flash mob outside the San Diego Convention Center, where more con-goers sported the “Black Heroes Matter” tees designed by artist and comics creator URAEUS.
That evening inside Hall H, a historic sight inaugurated a new era of diversity in superhero culture: Boseman, Creed and Fruitvale Station director Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead standing triumphantly together onstage, basking in the raucous excitement for Black Panther.
Catching up with him Sunday, the MCU’s first black superhero was optimistic that he and Coogler, who’s co-scripting the 2018 stand-alone, will be heard by Marvel brass as they help shape the groundbreaking superhero film in a climate of intense volatility in America.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of telling [Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige, but bringing things to the table that are poignant and topical and exist in the social consciousness now, I think they’re open to those things—as long as they do no harm,” Boseman told The Daily Beast. “I think they have us in this position because we have an opinion and a voice, and we’re willing to use it.”
Boseman’s entrée into Marvel’s sprawling comic book franchise came this year in Captain America: Civil War, in which the rift between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark was exacerbated by the appearance of the Wakandan prince T’Challa, also known as the warrior hero Black Panther. The character went over so well with audiences that it increased fan demand for his own movie, which begins lensing in January.
At Comic-Con, Marvel Studios gave Boseman and Coogler the leadoff position in the most anticipated presentation of the week. Standing onstage with Jordan, Nyong’o, and Gurira filling out the Black Panther squad in front of 6,500 screaming fans, they created the kind of image that makes a powerful impression and signals a major leap for diversity on Hollywood’s biggest pop stage.
Boseman also figures prominently in the September home video/Blu-ray release of Civil War, which features a look at how Marvel brought the hero, first introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966 at the height of the Civil Rights movement, into its current blockbuster universe. He looked ahead to where the solo movie might find Black Panther.
“He’s moving into being king and chieftain, so you’re going to see him take on that new role. I think you’ll see him trying to position himself as a leader and as a military leader, but also as a beneficent king and as a totem. You’ll meet Wakanda through his eyes.” He smiled apologetically. “I can’t tell you much more than that.”
There’s a weighty responsibility on Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s (The People vs O.J. Simpson) shoulders to craft a hero and story for the audience that rarely sees lead mainstream characters that look like them, let alone superheroes of color. Does Boseman think Black Panther will speak to the concerns of black America today?
“Yes, in some respects I do,” he said. “But I think those concerns are complex, and they’re also world concerns. He’s not a president, he’s a king—of an African nation. So those concerns are not necessarily just in the realm of the American political construct. They’re concerns that date back to knowing your lineage, knowing where you come from, having a sense of heritage. I think a lot of people will hopefully connect to this fantasy, but also connect to their own actual ancestry.”
As part of his own preparation, Boseman revealed, he’s researching history. His own history.
“People were brought here from various different parts of Africa, from the west coast of Africa, and very different parts of the west coast,” he explained. “You can find out what your actual ethnicity is from that respect. That’s part of what I have to do for this role.”
“I’m Limba, from Sierra Leone,” he continued. “How much of that will end up in the movie, I don’t know. But it will definitely help me to have a more visceral connection.”
At least he’s already well-versed in his Marvel comics lore. Boseman makes a distinction between T’Challa's archnemesis Erik Killmonger, a fellow Wakandan and insurgent who fought bitterly against the Black Panther to destabilize and control the African nation in the comics, and the version of Killmonger that will be played by Jordan in the upcoming film.
“There may be similarities in their issues in some ways, but I think we live in a world that is unique to now,” he smiled. “So Killmonger is going to be a Killmonger [for] right now, whatever that means. Killmonger will exist, not from the ’90s, not from the early 2000s, but for, you know, 2017 and 2018.”