Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR Avengers: Infinity War are ahead.
If you haven’t heard by now, several of our favorite Avengers bite the dust — literally — in Avengers: Infinity War — one of them my personal favorite, Black Panther. While most people were busy crying their eyeballs out or trying to process the devastating aftermath of the deaths of Gamora, Spider-Man, Vision, Groot, Scarlet Witch, and . . . well, the list goes on . . . I was busy fuming in my seat at the idea that Marvel would kill off such an important cinematic figure so early on.
Black Panther burst onto the scene in February, ranking in $76 million on its first day in theaters and earning a whopping $241.9 million in its opening weekend, dispelling the longstanding myth that movies featuring an all-black cast don’t perform well at the box office. But it didn’t stop there. The critically acclaimed film continued to live up to its much-deserved hype when it crushed Titanic‘s 21-year-old record to become the third-highest-grossing movie of all time in North America.
This was done in part by black audiences showing up to see a superhero who finally looked like them on the big screen. The empowering imagery of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the badass Dora Milaje was definitely felt by moviegoers, judging by the legions of fans who dressed up for screenings and celebrities who shared their reactions on social media.
For those reasons, Black Panther was more than just a movie for many in the black community. As I watched King T’Challa fade to ashes and Okoye’s (Danai Guirara) heartfelt grief over his loss, I couldn’t help but think how jarring it is that Marvel killed off the heroic character only two months after his long-awaited debut. After all, it only took 10 long years for the studio to finally put forth a solo film starring a superhero of color.
If it seems like I’m being too dramatic — there’s a huge chance they’ll all come back in Avengers 4, I get it — take for instance the heartbreaking reaction of my 9-year-old nephew who went to see Infinity War on opening day. When I saw him later that evening, his first words to me were, “Why did Thanos have to kill Black Panther? He was helping people. It made me cry.” His reaction made me think about all of the little black boys and girls who saw Black Panther early this year and in turn saw themselves — something that I didn’t have as a kid growing up, only seeing white superheroes onscreen — only to have that image shattered less than two months later. It was poor judgment on Marvel’s behalf, in my opinion.
Some might argue that we shouldn’t take movies too seriously, but on the other hand, there’s the very real fact that representation matters. It feels like a slap in the face to deliver such an important, revered character only to make him disappear into thin air while we’re still celebrating him. I get that the deaths in Infinity War are supposed to hurt, but killing off Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), or Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) would’ve packed the same punch — if not more.
And why is that? Well, because those are original members of the Avengers whom audiences have come to know over the years. Their shocking deaths would have affected viewers on a deeper level based on the memories we’ve built with them onscreen. Yet, somehow, Marvel still chose to include T’Challa in its Thanos-finger-snap-massacre. From that standpoint, Black Panther’s death feels even more unnecessary.
Arguably, the most destructive brawl in Infinity War takes place in Wakanda, the fictitious African nation where T’Challa is King. We watch the technologically advanced country get destroyed by the film’s end. For those who might point out that Black Panther had to get his fair share of suffering in the film just like the rest of the heroes, I’d argue having your homeland destroyed after opening it up to save the world is enough retribution.
Yes, I’m aware that Black Panther will likely return in the next Avengers film. I know this because Boseman has signed on for at least five MCU films, and he’s only starred in three so far, including Infinity War. It also means he’ll likely be back for a Black Panther sequel. But hopefully, by then, Marvel will be capable of producing poignant plot lines that can evoke emotional gravitas without cheap character deaths. Fingers crossed.
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