Even though the film has grossed over $1 billion in sales in just a month having made $63 million worldwide over the weekend. It seems that not every one is a fan of Black Panther.
Although, the movie is filling seats in China, it isn’t exactly getting rave reviews from movie goers, online comments and reviews hint at subtle racism and a general discomfort of the all black cast.
The film is set in Wakanda, a fictional East African country, that has technology light years ahead of its western counterparts, the country is a romanticised version of an Africa that was never touched by the white man. One has to wonder why anyone who saw the trailer for this film or has read the comics would be surprised by the all black cast but logic is hard to find in 2018.
On Douban, China’s IMDb-esque platform, the film holds a 6.8 rating out of 10 (link in Chinese)—almost half of science-fiction and action movies rated by Douban users have a better score. Whereas, outside China Black Panther is set to become the highest rated superhero film ever, it currently sits at 97% on Rotten Tomato (at the time of writing).
Like many on the right in America, Chinese audiences think Marvel was trying too hard to be politically correct by having an all-black cast(link in Chinese). Again, let me remind you Black Panther is a film set in East Africa. Many on Douban did the utmost to not just leave outright racist messages, but they did let loose their discomfort of being surrounded by blackness.
“Maybe the Chinese are still not used to a film full of black people,” wrote one reviewer on Douban (link in Chinese). The same commentator said he had to pinch himself to stay awake during the movie because “Black Panther is black, all the major characters are black, a lot of scenes are black, the car-chasing scene is black—the blackness has really made me drowsy.”
Someone else said the experience was worse in 3D (link in Chinese): “The film is filled with black actors and actresses. Also, because the film’s colors are a bit dark, it’s nearly a torture for the eyes to watch the film’s 3D version in the theater.”
This reaction to Black Panther is just another reminder of the lack of exposure of different races in China. Last month, in the annual Lunar New Year TV gala by China’s state broadcaster CCTV, producers had a Chinese actress in blackface and cast a black actor to play a monkey. In October, a Chinese museum hosted an exhibition titled “This is Africa” that juxtaposed images of black people to animals, including monkeys and cheetahs.
All we can hope for is that Chinese people look past the black faces and see the movie for what it is. A great superhero film. Niesha Davis on Shanghai-based digital publication Sixth Tone agrees with this: “Exposure to pop culture that encompasses diverse representations of black people can exert a powerful influence on how individuals conceive of them,” Davis wrote.