Superman: The Movie celebrated its 40th anniversary on December 15th, and The Hollywood Reporter ran a wonderful article, espousing the greatness of Superman the movie. I agree wholeheartedly with the article and the reporter’s opinion. Superman: The Movie is the benchmark against the way all other superhero movies will be judged. The reporter admitted that the first film is not his favorite Superman (he picked Man of Steel for his favorite Superman film).
However, what I found most interesting about this article is while Superman the movie represents who we were as a country 40 years ago and who we wanted to be as a country, it is not who we are today—which begs the question: Who are we today?
If we had to pick a superhero to represent who we are today and where we wanted to go as a country, who it would be?
For me, there is only one clear choice.
Superman famously stands for “truth, justice, and the American way.” I would say, 40 years ago to 80 years ago even, the American way stood for something much different than it does today. Today, the American way seems to stand for nationalism, isolationism, racism, xenophobia, bullying, etc. It stands for all the things we don’t want it to stand for. Yes, a large part of that is because of the man who was elected (or stole) the presidency. Forty years ago, while America was not in a great place, it was in a better place. Eighty years ago, when Superman was created as a refugee from the lost planet of Krypton who sought comfort not just on Earth, but in the heartland of our country, America was the country that saved the world from the evils of Hitler and the Axis Powers in WWII (depending on how you look at it). America was the beacon of hope; the bright light the world looked to be in its darkest hour to save it from the truly terrible acts of genocide that Hitler was committing.
Therefore, when Superman premiered 40 years ago, that is what he stood for—standing up for what’s right, for protecting the little guy, for being the hope for all that is good, and the hope that we all have in ourselves and in the world that we can all be better than we are.
Nonetheless, times change and so does Superman.
…Well, who is our best hope now?
Let me tell you about a little African nation called Wakanda.
For avid readers of comic books, T’Challa and his role as Black Panther is not anything new. However, for many people (me included) the movie Black Panther, though not technically the introduction to the character in the MCU (that would have been in Captain America: Civil War), Black Panther the movie was the introduction to the character and the country of Wakanda. Wakanda is the rich nation in Africa that pretends to be poor in order to keep itself out of the geopolitics of the world. (There is Nationalism and isolationism present.)
Just for those who are curious, I am going to turn this around and admit that Black Panther is our new hope.
At the end of the movie, Black Panther decides to open the borders of his country in order to give back to the world—something which I would love to see our country do again. (This could start a whole immigration debate that I am going to mostly ignore, except to say this: the immigration system in our country is broken and needs to be fixed.)
Yet, I want to talk about Black Panther—not just about his country and his opening of previously closed borders.
Granted, Black Panther would have a hard time being who he is without the wealth of T’Challa and the King of Wakanda. However, T’Challa also has this as Black Panther: proficiency in science, rigorous physical training, and amazing hand-to-hand combat skills. The wealth is not available to anyone and everyone (and neither was Superman’s “man of steel” attribute), but the latter three things are something everyone can attain and strive to achieve. Moreover, it will be science that saves us from events, such as global warming and not our “beliefs” no matter how much we want to hang onto them.
However, more than that, while Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American way, Black Panther stands for equality, change, and the beginning of an end to marginalization for minorities and people of color. In the MCU, Black Panther is every bit of Captain America’s equal, and no doubt Superman’s equal as well.
Black Panther is the hero to take us through the next 40 years (and maybe beyond).