Minority representation is an undeniably critical issue in contemporary media entertainment, something that has been recently highlighted in a perhaps surprising arena: superhero fandoms. With Marvel and DC Comics cranking out blockbuster films left and right, there has been a renewed clamor among fans calling for the incorporation of more diversity into these works—both on screen and on the page. With the inclusion of the black superhero Black Panther in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War film and the release of the new Marvel comic book series Black Panther on Wednesday April 6, it seems that industry higher-ups are taking a step in the right direction.
For those unfamiliar with the character, Black Panther—or T’Challa—was the first black superhero to debut in a mainstream comic book in America in 1966. He is the protective king of the technologically advanced, fictional African country Wakanda and is, as explained by Marvel’s website, “a brilliant tactician, strategist, scientist, tracker and a master of all forms of unarmed combat.” Black Panther has enhanced physical abilities as well as a tactical, mesh suit lined with Vibranium—the same material that Captain America’s shield is made from.
While it’s awesome to see that Black Panther will get his time on the big screen—actor Chadwick Boseman currently has a five-film deal that will include 2018’s Black Panther—the stand-alone comic series is arguably more groundbreaking when considering its celebrated African American author: journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates is not only a national correspondent for The Atlantic, but is also the author of Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction for its harrowing exploration of the struggles of being black in the United States.
According to The New York Times article “Ta-Nehisi Coates Helps a New Panther Leave Its Print,” Coates became involved with the project after working at a conference hosted by The Atlantic in 2015, catching the attention of Marvel editor Tom Brevoort as Coates conducted an interview during a seminar entitled “What if Captain America were Muslim and Female?”
Brevoort asked Coates if he would be willing to write for any characters and while Coates immediately listed Spider-Man and X-Men figures as personal favorites, he was ultimately captivated at the suggestion of writing for Black Panther.
What is truly admirable about the new series is that it won’t just be strictly focused on classic superhero action; it also strives to present a thorough exploration of both the multi-faceted nature of Black Panther’s character and the kingdom that he reigns over. Coates explained that while racial issues will be addressed—commenting that, “Race is always there”—he noted that problems with gender, culture, political structures and morality will also be brought to light.
And for any fans who may be skeptical about Coates’ ability to work with the fictitious, previous Panther comics author Jonathan Hickman expressed his full confidence in Coates’ writing talent and devotion to the project.
“The thing that people should understand about Ta-Nehisi is that he’s a comic-book superfan,” he said. “He knows his stuff.”
Bringing in such an eloquent and renowned African American author to craft this new, in-depth Black Panther series is exactly the kind of minority representation and recognition that the world of superheroes desperately needs.