The All-Star Cast For Black Panther Is Bigger Than Life (Video)

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Like many forms of escapism entertainment, comic books (and other comic-inspired media) often mirror the realities from which they are intended to distract. When justice, honor, and overall heroism appear lacking in the real world, fictional characters can give the people hope, inspiration, and belief in the fact that good can prevail.

As comic book franchise films continue to drive film box office sales, the expansion of characters—and personas is ongoing. In one of the year’s biggest films, Captain America: Civil War features an ensemble of characters new and old. In the 50th anniversary of the character’s first appearance in Fantastic Four (#52) “Black Panther” boldly makes his return. Historically, Black Panther is widely considered the first Black superhero in mainstream comics.

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Played in the film by Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up), the Captain America feature role is actually a pivot to Black Panther‘s standalone Marvel film franchise. Over the weekend at Comic Con San Diego, the film’s director and cast took the stage before an excited crowd.

Ryan Coogler, who previously directed Fruitvale Station and Creed, will direct the film. Coogler, a native of Oakland, California, is currently developing the script with a Joe Robert Cole (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story producer/writer). However, he had some valuable items to confirm before an enthused audience.

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“It’s absolutely crazy to be looking at my people from this view,” said Ryan Coogler to fellow comic goers. He revealed he had attended the same event in 2009—sitting in the far back. “We’re trying to make something you all will truly enjoy about the world of Wakandan,” he added of the land of “T’Challa,” “Black Panther’s” other name name. “The coolest part about [that world is its] warrior king that takes care of them and protects them. We’re fortunate enough to have an incredible actor portraying that king,” Ryan said of Boseman.

After Chadwick took the stage, Coogler moved onto to other members of the cast. “What’s really amazing about Wakandan is that they have these women, who are the best fighters in the kingdom. We brought one of them along.” Lupita Nyong’o enters. She will play “Nakia.” The Mexico City, Mexico native is best known for her Oscar Award-winning performance in 12 Years A Slave. “I’m looking forward to kicking some ass,” she said of her first role of this kind.

Opposite the title character, Michael B. Jordan appeared at Comic Con, revealing that he will play Black Panther’s nemesis, Killmonger. “I’m extremely excited to be part of this cast, working with this fantastic director again,” Jordan said, after playing the title character (“Adonis Creed”) in 2015’s acclaimed Creed. That performance earned Michael an NCAAP Image Award.

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Closing out the Black Panther cast confirmations made this weekend in southern California, Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead” will play “Okoye.” Previously, she worked with Nyong’o on Broadway play, Eclipsed. Gurira also is portraying Afeni Shakur in the upcoming Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me.

While it was never explicitly mentioned on stage, the appearance of an all-Black cast and director, against the backdrop of an industry that has recently been under attack for a lack of diversity, including an avalanche of social media posts using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, was a powerful statement in and of itself. The fact that the group included an Oscar winner, a star of TV’s most popular show and arguably the most acclaimed-African-American director of his generation added an exclamation point on the level of talent that had been assembled.

Marvel’s use of “Black Panther” reportedly predates the founding of the Black Panther Party by several months. The first issue published in summer 1966, while the party established in October of that year. Black Panther co-creator Stan Lee said the character’s name stemmed from a pulp fiction serial he had encountered earlier. Due to confusion during the Civil Rights Era between the party and the comic, the fictional character’s name was briefly changed to “Black Leopard.”

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Further blurring the lines between comic and reality, in the mid-1970s, Marvel portrayed “Black Panther” taking on the Ku Klux Klan during a trip to “the American South.”

Last year, Coogler re-positioned the Rocky franchise with Creed as director and co-writer. For nearly 40 years, the Academy Award-winning boxing saga starring and created by Sylvester Stallone portrayed an Italian American athlete redefining the image of a sport which, at the time, had not had a White American heavyweight champion since Rocky Marciano in 1956. With Stallone still involved and delivering a Golden Globe Award-winning performance, Creed shifted the franchise to the son of original antagonist “Apollo Creed.”