Black Panther and the #OscarsSoWhite Movement: The meaning of the film and its confrontation of social constructs in the modern entertainment industry

The #OscarsSoWhite movement started in January 2015, after April Reign tweeted about the Academy Award nominees. The hashtag she used, #OscarsSoWhite, went viral instantly on social media, and a movement was born.The trend resurfaced the following year when, for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the lead and supporting acting categories were white (LA Times). Since its debut 88 years ago, the Academy has only awarded 14 black actors with Oscars in acting (USA Today). In the wake of this realization and movement, various A-List actors announced their boycott of the event, and their subsequent revokement of their attendance. This began with Oscar honorary Spike Lee and his wife, and was followed by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and others. This was then followed by recognition from actors like George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, and President Barack Obama. Those who did attend, but supported the movement, took to the stage to voice their opinions during the live broadcast, causing a stir online and among the media outlets (USA Today).

The Academy has made strides to improve the presence of minorities and women within its membership, offering to double it by 2020, after a unanimous vote. It was referred to as a “historic step” on the Academy’s part (USA Today). This would be impressive if it were not so sad that this small action was considered historic. In 2012, a study reported by the LA Times revealed that Oscar voters were made up of 94% Caucasian and 77% male members. It was not outlined how these statistics would fit into the new initiatives put forth by their “historic step”. But, the entertainment industry still has yet to see a stark change in this, especially in superhero movies. Despite the recent release of Wonder Woman, which quickly became a hit and a pop-cultural milestone, the motion picture was still left out of the most recent Oscar nominations (Variety).  

Thus enters Black Panther, one of the most recent Marvel superhero movies portraying the comic book character of the same name. The film tells the story of the fictional nation Wakanda, a conglomerate comprised of four African tribes that hides itself as a third-world country. One soon finds out, however, that this highly technologically-advanced nation utilizes a meteorite called Vibranium to fuel the superhero, the Black Panther. The almost all-black and mixed gender cast of the film portray minorities in powerful positions, and as the heroes in the film, in addition to the minorities highlighted within the film crew. This is a stark comparison to the heavily-focused white male cast and crew typically involved in a Marvel superhero movie franchise.

The film follows King T’Challa as he takes over the reign after his father’s death. Himself and the nation of Wakanda soon become challenged by outsiders, Klaue and Erik Stevens (later named Killmonger), who attempt to steal Wakandan artifacts that contain Vibranium. Epics battle scenes transpire throughout the movie, as T’Challa calls upon friends and other tribal leaders to aid in the defense against those who threaten their culture. But, after T’Challa falls to Killmonger during ritual combat, the King’s family and friends flee, leaving the throne to the winner. Killmonger ingests the Vibranium herb and becomes a super villain-esque leader, ordering Wakandans to ship weapons to operatives around the world. Before this could be fully executed, it is discovered that T’Challa had survived the combat with Killmonger, and he is soon restored to full Black Panther power after his ex-love, Nakia, steals the solution back from the enemies. The film ends with an epic battle scene, in true Marvel fashion, in which T’Challa defeats Killmonger and his army, with the help of the women in the movie. T’Challa then opens an outreach center in America, that he appoints his sister, Shuri, and ex-love, Nakia, to run. But, if you are a true Marvel fan, you know that the beginning of the credits is not the actual ending of the movie – Marvel always places short clips in the middle and end of the credit sequence. By staying, one learns that T’Challa visits the United Nations to reveal Wakanda as it is, and not as a third-world country; they are no longer in hiding from what one would assume to be the Western world (IMDB).

This movie is more than just a superhero movie; it is about black culture, the journey through it, and a future where this culture could be the culture. It shows how the recognition of one’s civilization is not only beautiful, but preferred. It is where black members of society can embrace their traditions and upbringings without the fear of rejection or misunderstanding. Wakanda is shown as an oasis within African culture. This is a stark contrast to the traditional Hollywood portrayal of black actors in roles displaying poverty, antagonism, and savagery, or the past mistreatment and history of black society within the confines of slavery and the civil rights movement. It acknowledges and celebrates the beauty within black culture, and a world where women are just as powerful and smart as men, all while preserving their identity. But, this film also shows the desire to keep this culture hidden away from outsiders, at the risk of the dissemination of information destroying their tradition. Coincidence is possible, but the placement of T’Challa’s meeting with the UN being after the credits roll, is an interesting concept. Although Marvel fans know of this commonality in every franchise movie, there are still a significant amount of viewers who may not even know that this scene exists within the confines of the movie. This then instigates the belief that even now, there is still a desire to keep the outsiders from getting into the inner workings of the culture, for hopes of preserving it. Cultural appropriation is prevalent throughout modern society, and this possible symbol of preservation could be mirroring hesitation within the people of color in the entertainment industry. Black culture is often times mocked or misunderstood in films, so it has found itself in a niche environment within society, just as Wakanda had within Africa. This scene can be understood as a welcoming and opening up of black culture to society, just as the nation was recognizing itself to the rest of the world.

The fictional nation of Wakanda being housed within Africa, a non-fictional location, is also a poignant presentation of ideals. A lot of other Marvel movies take place in dystopian or entirely fictional realms, thus making them inevitably impossible. But, Africa actually exists, showing Wakandan culture as something that is a very real possibility to human beings (aside from the Vibranium superhero tendencies). This strategic placement calls upon members of black society to embrace their cultural upbringings and traditions, and implement them into modern everyday life.

The simple presence of two white males, Klaue and CIA agent Ross, within the movie is also incredibly strategic. A common joke among all or majority white cast movies is the presence of the “token black character”. You see this in practically every movie. Usually they are portrayed as the sidekick or the evil villain, while exacerbating their personalities to hark on stereotypes like the “loud black friend with a big attitude”. Instead, Black Panther took the chance to portray two of the only white characters as both the villain and the sidekick. Personally, this side note was very obvious and, honestly, hilarious. This can be seen in the shift of black actors only acting as catalysts within the portrayal of a white man, rather than the focus being on other races and genders. It was time that the roles were changed, and the stereotypes fell on someone other than a person of color or woman.

So, what does this mean for the future Oscars? Seeing as Black Panther was released only mere months before the airing of the 2018 awards, it was not included in the nominations. But, we did see a stronger presence from people of color within the nominees. Possibly this was strategic on the nominating committees part, but the films included were strong pieces that deserved recognition. Get Out and CoCo both highlighted different races from different perspectives and plotlines. Call Me by Your Name explored the inner-workings of an LGBTQ member of society. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri championed a non-traditional, strong female lead. If viewership is any indication, seeing as Black Panther just surpassed Titanic, the 2019 Oscars are looking optimistic for the #OscarsSoWhite movement and its mission. Other industries in the nation have transitioned to reflect these arguments against stereotyping and gender/race gaps, Hollywood has been slow to join them. The greatest champions of the industry are still heavily white male-focused, despite the presence of incredible cast and crews that prove otherwise. As celebrities and members of society alike utilize the booming social media scene, movements like #OscarsSoWhite can gain traction faster than ever before. Their power is in the form of technology, just as Wakanda had Vibranium, and the world needs to be open to hearing of the existence of it.

It has not been officially confirmed if Black Panther will be transitioned into a sequel, but there is still more content within the original comic book that could be tapped into. Seeing as Marvel typically produces sequels, prequels, and crossover movies without as strong of following as Black Panther has, it can be easily assumed that a sequel is inevitable for the franchise, just from a financial standpoint. But, it should also be evident from a societal standpoint as well. This highlight and championship of black beauty and culture has caused a movement within the industry, and society alike. Black children of all genders now have someone to admire that looks just like them when they look in the mirror. Black women now have role models that show traditional African clothing, hair, and makeup as desirable, especially in contrast of white America. There is no doubt that there were resources within local communities that have been showing this for decades. But, there is a difference in seeing it on film and among Hollywood.

Black Panther now stands as the future of what can become of the American entertainment industry, and its ability to champion all members of society. #OscarsSoWhite outlined the deep rifts within the industry, and Hollywood’s perpetuation of the workforces tendency to think twice when hiring a person of color or woman. One box-office hit is not going to change this problem overnight, but it sparked a fire within the souls of those trying to make a difference in this fight for equality.


Works Cited

Alexander, Bryan. “Academy Takes ‘Historic’ Steps to Increase Diversity.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 23 Jan. 2016,
Anderson, Tre’vell. “#OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign on the 2018 Oscar Nominations and Why #BlackPressMatters.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 23 Jan. 2018,
“Black Panther (2018).” IMDb,,
Ryan, Patrick. “#OscarsSoWhite Controversy: What You Need to Know.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 2 Feb. 2016,
Tapley, Kristopher. “’Black Panther’ Is a Legit Phenomenon, but Will It Be an Oscar Player?” Variety, 20 Feb. 2018,

Louise Erdrich and Migrant Mother

Much of Louise Erdrich’s poetry surrounds the depiction of her Native American upbringing. The poem, “I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move”, tells the story of a flood destroying her home and the surrounding land as she and her grandfather watch. It is also understood as an allusion to Manifest Destiny and the cultural whitewashing of the Native people during colonial America. Erdrich describes this destruction through aggressive terminology like “dragged”, “hollow”, and “broken”. Additionally, there are multiple mentions of the color “white”, directly referencing the racial transition of America during that time.

The presence of Erdrich’s grandfather in the poem is strategic in that she herself is too young to have experienced these moments during Manifest Destiny. But based on the Native American tradition of oral history passed down through generations, it is presumed that her grandfather had shared these stories with her.

After the wave of Manifest Destiny and the violent relocation of Natives, America experienced the Great Depression. “Migrant Mother”, a photograph by Dorothea Lange, is arguably one of the most famous pieces of artwork from this time. It depicts a mother in her 30’s, distractedly looking in the distance as her children hold onto her shoulders and back for protection; she is covered in dirt.

Lange quotes the mother saying:

“We just existed,” Florence Thompson said. “We survived. Let’s put it that way.”


Thompson had been working as a pea picker in California when the crops had been destroyed by freezing rain, leaving the entire camp unemployed. She was a single mother, who had to feed her children by selling the tires off her car and killing birds.

Both pieces of art describe the struggle of living through the depiction of a disaster, from two completely different races. Additionally, they are comparatively ironic because the land that destroyed Thompson’s livelihood is also the land that had been stolen from the Native Americans like Erdrich.

The presentation of the pieces of art are an interesting focal point, as well. As mentioned above, Native American communities largely operate based on oral history and storytelling collectives for a means of documentation. White Americans largely utilize photography and other still life “moments in time” methods. These two pieces of art, the poem and the photo, both depict an intense struggle and search for livelihood, but in two completely different ways.

Through their art, both Erdrich and Lange tell the story of “just existing”, as Thompson put it. They discuss how these unpreventable events in their lives had come through, destroying everything in their paths, only to leave behind the aftermath. They simply survived, rather than prospering.

Nightwood Love and Youth

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is a contemplative piece that transports the readers into their own world, where vices roam and debauchery is welcomed. From the struggles of maintaining a strong family tree to the rejected transformation process for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Paris in the 1920’s is shown through the vantage point of multiple characters. The chapters change as the story is flipped on its own end through the alteration in viewpoint, making the entire novel feel as confusing as the characters themselves.

When approaching this story for the purpose of this assignment, it became apparent of the many angles that could be taken. The most striking of plot values, that continued to show itself in deeper analysis, was quite obviously the love triangle between three characters: Robin, Nora, and Jenny. The vagabond nature of Robin throughout the story perpetuates a simultaneous juxtaposition and co-mingling of love and hate. After it has become apparent that Robin has fallen in love with, and left with Jenny, the reader is welcomed into a conversation between Dr. Matthew and a heartbroken Nora.

The long monologues by Matthew to Nora are only interrupted when Nora’s arguably whiney voice describes her emotions about the situation. During one part of the interaction, Nora and Matthew say:


“Matthew,’ she said, ‘have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?’

For a moment he did not answer. Taking up the decanter he held it to the light.

‘Robin can go anywhere, do anything,’ Nora continued, ‘because she forgets, and I nowhere because I remember.’  She came toward him.  ‘Matthew,’ she said, ‘you think I have always been like this.  Once I was remorseless, but this is another love — it goes everywhere; there is no place for it to stop — it rots me away.”


Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of a song that I had listened to far too frequently:


“And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one

‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone

Setting fire to our insides for fun

To distract our hearts from ever missing them

But I’m forever missing him”


Youth by Daughter is a slow and emotional indie song about heartbreak, and the direct result it can feel like it is having on one’s body. The metaphorical lines in the song tell the story of a woman, post-breakup, who is unable to find a hope for the future. Life had suddenly become only but a beginning and an end, and everything in between had lost meaning without that person. Losing them was losing everything, and every breath and thought without them has become destructive.

Nora’s “rotting” description to Matthew is just that: destructive. Under the absence of Robin, and subsequently their love, Nora has lost meaning for everything including her life. The loss is so heavy that she feels as if her life is falling apart – literally, as she “rots” from the inside out.

Djuna depicts a type of a love that falls apart, where only one side of the couple is deeply affected. This component supports the notion that this novel is compiled of a sort of non-story, in the sense that it lacks a normal pattern. Nora is left heartbroken and helpless, while Robin appears to be happy with Jenny. It becomes obvious, however, that Robin is truly never happy and Jenny is wholly aware of this, leaving this love triangle lacking any deep connection.

This non-story novel is an unconventional tale about unconventional love, that leaves every reader with a different perspective, mimicked by the different character vantage points throughout. The story does not entirely make sense, but at the same time, makes so much sense to very different people. In the same, the song connects to people through various heartbreaks, while also pulling in questions of youth and adolescence, and the impact of society. They both struggle with finding a strong meaning but somehow achieve it at the same time.

Anglo-African Magazine and Hamilton the Musical

In the Anglo-African Magazine, picture IX, the author provides a satirical depiction of Mount Vernon. Being the residence of George and Martha Washington, who owned slaves, this can be seen as the authors personal comments on the irony of the dilapidation of the home at that current time.

The author describes the imagery of the ghost of a former slave, holding Washington’s bones in his hand accompanied by a sign reading, “For Sale, Price $200,000 this negro included”. Washington, the emblem of the foundation of America, a nation founded on immigrants, was for sale. The ideals of the Founding Fathers, like their idyllic representation in Mount Vernon, were in decay. The repetition of the words “decay” and “Mount Vernon” were used in order to enhance the juxtaposition and importance of these words together.

This nation was founded on immigrants and the hard work of those labeled as lower class individuals and “chattel” – a lot like how Mount Vernon was built and maintained by the blood, sweat, and tears of Washington’s slaves. The presentation and acceptance of this belief during the time of the Anglo-African Magazine would have been met with intense opposition. This meant that those who held these beliefs had to become creative in their opposition, and could greatly explain why the author chose to write this section in such a hidden way.

Despite their inaccuracy in timeline alignment, this excerpt largely reminded myself of lines from songs in Hamilton: the musical. Both artistic productions surround the topic of the establishment of America through the work of immigrants. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and lead of Hamilton, purposefully produced the musical in a humorous and honest way where each character was portrayed by a minority.

Throughout the musical there are lines supporting this belief, but one of the most prominent is “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” Not all free men. Not all men with land. All men are created equal. (This is slightly bittersweet to defend, considering it does not include women, but that is another post for another day.)

This line was the basis of the creation of the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and wholly represented principles that Washington supported. It created all men as equal, and confirmed his wishes to free all slaves from their imprisonment. However, the next wave of political representatives brought strong opposition to this belief, increasing slavery exponentially, in response to the past wave of (quasi) equality. This welcomed the Civil War into American history.

As we find ourselves in our current states of affairs, we can look back on history and recognize the pattern of this wave of opposition. The Abraham Lincoln presidency and the subsequent abolishing of slavery followed the Civil War. Brown v. Board of Education and the de-segregation of public places and schools followed periods of deep-seeded hatred and racism. The Obama presidency, a period defined by hope and change, was followed by the Trump presidency and the rise of neo-Nazism.

In the face of all of this opposition throughout American history, opponents were forced to become creative in their presentation of the truth. The Anglo-African Magazine produced satire about the destruction of the ideals of the Founding Fathers. Martin Luther King Jr. practiced peaceful protests, inspiring sit-in movements across the nation. Lin-Manuel Miranda created a hit musical production where America was black, Hispanic, female, and so on. As a result of the works of these minorities, America was strong. But without it, as seen in the depiction of Mount Vernon, America was dilapidated.