National Press Club

Black Panther is “seminal change” for movie industry, says superhero novelist

February 28, 2018 | By Chris Teale | chris.teale55@gmail.com

Jesse J. Holland, author of “Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther?” speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Book Event on Feb. 27.

Jesse J. Holland, author of “Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther?” speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Book Event on Feb. 27.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Having made more than $750 million at the box office, the movie “Black Panther” represents a “seminal change” in the industry, said a novelist who wrote a book featuring the Marvel hero.

Jesse J. Holland, the author of the recent novel “Who is the Black Panther?” said the movie has shown what can be possible with a majority-black cast, production crew and director. He spoke at a National Press Club Headliners Book Event on Feb. 27.

“Black Panther has shattered the myth that a story told by a black director using a black character and a majority-black cast cannot be successful in America,” he said Tuesday night. That “glass ceiling for black directors, black actors, black writers and black producers is gone.”

Holland’s novel traces the origin of the superhero Black Panther, also called T’Challa, who lives in the fictional African country of Wakanda. The country is isolated and completely self-reliant, shielded from the rest of the world for fear they will steal vibranium, a rich natural resource found in Wakanda.

In his writing, Holland said he leaned heavily on the original Marvel comics of the Black Panther, which first came out in 1966 as part of the Fantastic Four series.

And he said that the movie has come out at the right time for the United States, after President Barack Obama served eight years as the country’s first African-American president and brought to the surface conversations about race relations in this country.

Obama’s election win in 2008 “brought about a discussion, and a willingness to have a discussion, about colonialism and about racism that we weren’t willing to have in the past,” Holland said.

He said Wesley Snipes had been in line to play the Black Panther in a movie about 10 years ago, but it was not the right time and the character would likely have been changed or “massaged.” But in 2018, he said, the time was right.

“I think we are in a special time with a special director, with a special cast to tell that story now,” Holland said. “If you change any of those elements, it wouldn’t have been the same.”

Comic books are a sort of mythology as a way to teach morality stories to younger generations, Holland said, but “Black Panther” will be important to show minorities a strong role model. He said that includes his own children.

“This was one of the movies I wanted my kids to see,” Holland said. “I grew up reading comic books and watching cartoons and had no one that looked like me.”