Success of “Black Panther” Film Renews Interest in American Counterculture
“Black Panther,” a film based on a Marvel Comics superhero, is breaking cinematic records around the world while at the same time sparking interest in the civil rights movement that bloomed around the same time American society was going through a period of counterculture.
In the United States, school teachers are preparing lesson plans based on the film and its loose association with the empowerment of African Americans in the decades that followed World War II. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the history of King T’Challa, the Black Panther of Wakanda, in 1966. Initially, Stan Lee wanted to provide a fictional background for “vibranium,” the rare element used to make the shield carried by Captain America.
In the pulp fiction novels that Lee enjoyed reading as a child, he was fascinated by stories about ancient African kingdoms that eventually succumbed to colonialism. Lee envisioned an African kingdom where the discovery of vibranium would lead to incredible technological advancement and weapons manufacturing, thus the idea of Wakanda, a kingdom that escaped colonialism by becoming a secretive and isolationist nation, was born. Moreover, Lee remembered a dime novel character who had tamed a black panther cub and later trained it as a fighting companion; however, Lee was also aware that African American soldiers assigned to a segregated tank battalion in World War II were nicknamed “the Black Panthers.”
King T’Challa did not inspire the naming of the Black Panther Party of Oakland, a radical political faction that fought against racial inequality in the 1960s, and which was associated with civil rights leader Malcolm X. Oakland happens to be the birthplace of “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, and he included a tie-in in his film.
Now that young people from disadvantaged communities across the country are being taken to “Black Panther” screenings, high school teachers are taking this opportunity to deliver lessons about the history of counterculture.