In a week filled with troublesome and even tragic news, there are a few bright spots. One of them is the spectacular success of Disney/Marvel’s latest superhero film, “Black Panther,” which is breaking box office records left and right.
“Black Panther” grossed $242 million in the United States and $426 million worldwide in its first weekend. Among the many records the film has already set: It is the second-highest grossing film over any four-day opening period in history, and the highest-grossing film ever released in February.
The film’s success is particularly gratifying because it features a black director, a largely black cast and is set in the (fictional) African nation of Wakanda — thus soundly disproving the conventional Hollywood “wisdom” that a film with black and African themes would not appeal to broad audiences. Commentators have further observed with delight that — for once — a film with predominantly black characters isn’t about slavery or exploitation. And former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted her praise for the fact that African-American children now have a superhero that looks like them. (If past is precedent, I predict that lots of little boys and girls, regardless of their race, will be dressing up like Black Panther for Halloween this year!)
In truth, none of this should really be surprising. When the writing is good and the characters are compelling, Americans flock to material created and acted by black artists. “The Cosby Show” spent five consecutive years as the No. 1 show on TV in the 1980s, helped launch spinoffs (“A Different World”) and other shows featuring black artists like “In Living Color” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Nor is this phenomenon confined to sitcoms. Talk show host, sometime…