Cultural Production of Black Panther behind the scenes

Curator's Note

One day after the February 16, 2018 release of Marvel Studio’s Black Panther, Vanity Fair published the first of three “Notes on a Scene”[1] featurettes for the comic book fantasy blockbuster. In the slickly produced 10-minute clip “Black Panther’s Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene,” we get a high tech, crash course on shooting the elaborate South Korean casino bar fight.

The clip highlights Black Panther’s subtle and not so subtle coded blackness exhibited throughout. For example, costuming for T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) reflect the red, green, and black stripes of the pan-African flag. Black women can take multiple meanings from Okoye’s “snatched wig.” Traditional fighting styles and the repeated high pitched “yip” of Senegalese women on the music track further underscore ways the film marks it Africanness. Coogler’s sincerity and intimate connection to the material humanizes the production process. When coupled with Ruth Carter’s and Letitia Wright’s BTS on costuming and the film’s afrofuturist technology, respectively, they discursively link with other paratexts to generate a particular kind of buzz. But can Vanity Fair’s highbrow status and slickly produced BTS content render Black Panther more legible and thus more pleasurable and accessible to cultural outsiders? Can these paratexts elevate the film’s cinematic and artistic quality by emphasizing its sincerity, cultural authenticity, and technical complexity? Finally, can Black Panther’s artistic and industrial bona fides allow it to be recognized beyond technical achievements?

Some suggest that Black Panther may be able to accomplish what Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2009), was not able to do: clutch a Best Picture nomination. One Oscars campaign consultant opined that Black Panther’s producers should “remind voters that this wasn’t just a movie, it was a phenomenon, […] if academy members didn’t get it then, they need to understand it now.”[2] Conveniently, Black Panther BTS featurettes await the opportunity to do just that.


[2] Whipp, Glenn, “Black Panther is on the hunt for a best picture Oscar no matter what happens with the ‘popular film’ prize,” The Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2018, [online]


Leah, thanks for sharing this video, which I'll likely use in my own classes--lots to unpack here. This is such a rich BTS short and you deliver a crisp analysis of its functions. I'm totally fascinated that VANITY FAIR is behind this, which, as you suggest, attempts to give BLACK PANTHER and its making cultural caché. I have to believe that the video gives a somewhat fusty magazine cultural cred too. It's also fascinating to see Coogler analyzing his own film with sports-style telestrator, which generates useful insights into his process and gives the staging of the fight scene an athletic dimension. (Was this Coogler's idea or VANITY FAIR's?) At the same time, I think his analysis does provide a YES to the questions you raise. And surely, it adds value and prestige to a film aiming for awards and critical acclaim.

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