DUBAI: “Black Panther,” with its ensemble of African-American actors and its unapologetic social commentary on racial politics, was a welcome signal of change in Hollywood.
Released in January last year, the Marvel movie was a breath of fresh air in an industry lacking in diversity. But it was more than that for Saudi Arabia.
After remaining dark for 35 years, commercial cinemas reopened in the Kingdom on April 18, 2018, with an invite-only screening of “Black Panther” at a cinema in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District.
Hundreds of VIP guests, including government officials and celebrities — men and women mixed — flocked to the venue to be part of the historic moment, one that was part of a series of major policy changes led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It made sense for “Black Panther” to signify this cultural renaissance, as the film itself was lauded for its own social relevance.
In the movie, African Prince-turned-King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to rule in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a technologically advanced country that is isolated from the rest of the world.
Doubling as the crime-fighting hero Black Panther, King T’Challa also has to defend his country from the evil intentions of his cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to dethrone him.
Critics have praised the film’s bold navigation of a racially charged narrative arc, where the major driving force of the main antagonist was to launch a global uprising against the oppression of African people.
Aside from the film’s highlight on the plight of people of color, there is also the fact that it treated its female characters the same way it did their male counterparts, giving their warrior roles much-needed depth.
These roles were given life by Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner for “12 Years a Slave”) and Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”).
Director Ryan Coogler successfully managed to inject all these provocative ideas in “Black Panther” while preserving its entertainment value as a superhero movie.
All the commendations were not just talk — “Black Panther” became an awards-season darling, also making history as one of the most critically acclaimed movies in its genre.
It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards this year, the first superhero film to get such a nod.
One of the most nominated films that night, it took home three Oscar trophies out of seven: Best Original Music Score, Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, all of which represented historical feats.
It became the first Marvel film ever to win an Oscar. Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler, who won for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design respectively, became the first African-American winners in their categories.
“Black Panther” raked in more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, making it the third-highest-grossing film of all time.
Its critical, commercial and cultural milestones made it the perfect film to revive the Saudi cinema scene.