On Business: Movie Sales and Review Notes

By | Monday, February 19, 2018 Leave a Comment
Look, I've been telling y'all Black Panther was gonna be big since August 2016, but did any of you listen? They have been continuing to revise initial weekend sales estimates up since pre-sales were first made available, and even going into Saturday, they were still making revisions. As part of a holiday weekend, today's sales will be counted too so I don't have final figures of course, but the last projections I saw put it at $218 million. It's breaking all kinds of records. Let me quote myself from 2016...
The cynic in me says that's why Marvel opted to push Black Panther from November 2017 to February (Black History Month) 2018. To play off whatever additional Black pride that might be in the air. Regardless of the reason, though, I suspect the movie will do a lot to empower people again. Seeing a block buster action movie made for everybody, but featuring almost nothing but people that look like them? That's going to get a LOT of people VERY excited.
Indeed, estimates are putting about 40% of the movie-going audience here as Black. And when you consider that only about 13% of the US population is Black, that says something.

Panther succeeds on any number of levels. The script is tight, the costumes are fantastic, the music is pitch perfect, the effects are solid, the acting is phenomenal... everything about the movie works very, very well.

But there are other movies that have all those things and don't do as well. So what's different here?

One thing that my wife was quick to point out after seeing it is that Killmonger isn't actually the villain here. Antagonist, yes. But villain, no. The villain here is actually White Supremacy, though it's never actually named as such in the movie. Killmonger's motive isn't to defeat Black Panther and/or take over the throne. That's merely a means to an end. The end is getting Wakandan weapons and technology out into the hands of Black and Brown people who are being oppressed. Black Panther, while he struggles with what his approach should be throughout the movie, ultimately decides that Killmonger did indeed identify the problem correctly, but it was just that his solution was faulty. Panther ends the film taking on the exact same fight Killmonger was waging, but with a different approach.

Further, it was the exact same conflict between T'Chaka and N'Jobu; however, both T'Challa and Killmonger take different approaches than either of their fathers did. That's a powerful statement about the ongoing nature of such a conflict, and how it can impact generations and divide families.

Then we have this large cast of characters, all of whom have their own journeys. Even comparatively minor characters like W'Kabi have a story arc they go through. So almost regardless of which character you, as a viewer, identified with, there was plenty there to appreciate. (Now, I expect there's plenty MORE in that original four-hour version that was allegedly the original cut, but even the 2 and a quarter hour version in theaters leaves plenty still there.) Despite Black Panther being the title character here, it was really an ensemble film.

And because that ensemble including heavy representation behind the camera, as well as in front of it, that meant that the story spoke to people of color in a way that very few big budget films do. It was still a corporate-owned media property and it was marketed and sold as just a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that across-the-board representation was felt in a way that it rarely is. (See my note about 40% of the audience above.) And when some corporate-level accommodations had to be made (the inclusion of Agent Ross' character, for example, adds little here besides helping to tie the movie more decisively with the MCU and acts as an avatar for white people who might be too bigoted or racist to deign to identify with anyone else in the movie; this suggests to me that his inclusion wasn't entirely director Ryan Coogler's choice) they're still done with a POC sensibility. (You'll note that, even in their darkest hour, no one suggests Ross take the heart-shaped herb to help save them; he's roundly shut out of the conversation in the Jabari throne room by M'Baku; and he regularly and repeatedly relies on Shuri's assistance in flying that ship. Not only is there zero chance of his being seen in some kind of "white savior" role, but he's largely relegated to being the sidekick of a sidekick.) But since it's all handled so expertly and without relying on any triggering terms and typical tropes, it all flies under the radar of the non-POC audience, who just see it as another cool Marvel superhero flick.

When I first watched the movie, I felt there were a few minor things that weren't expressed very clearly, but I knew the original cut was much longer and assumed some of those explanations fell to the cutting room floor. On my second and third viewings, though, I caught that virtually everything is indeed there; it's just that some of it relies on a single line of dialogue or a nuanced bit of body language that I missed initially. Which means that it's a really tight film in the first place, and (as I confirmed with my wife and some other friends who saw it multiple times) it gets better with repeat viewings.

I talked last week about how Chadwick Boseman's pay for this movie was tied to it's financial success. Considering how well it's doing domestically, as well as several African countries, already and it still has yet to open in other large markets like Russia, China, and Japan, I think Boseman will be pleased with his take-home pay for this. I also understand that Marvel Studios didn't come to Coogler about a sequel until after the ticket projections started radically climbing, so I'm hoping he's able to take full advantage of his leverage in that negotiation.

And hopefully better still, the rest of Hollywood will see that if you don't exclude people of color from movie-making, you can make big bucks by speaking to everybody instead of just the typical melanin-deficient "everybody."
Newer Post Older Post Home