2018-02-14 17:51:51 UTC
that it's not racist per se for a white child to dress as Black Panther
Whew! Dodged a bullet there.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News in the fall, Sterling K. Brown, a
star of BLACK PANTHER, thrilled at the prospect of children, black and
white, dressing up as the title character. "This Halloween, the first
time I see a little kid, a white kid, dressed up as Black Panther, I'm
taking a picture," he said. "You better believe I'm taking a picture,
because that¹s the crossover."
Chadwick Boseman, who plays Black Panther in the film, had already
witnessed said crossover, he said in the same interview: "I've seen
little white kids dressed up as T'Challa. I've seen pictures, and I've
seen it in person."
Black Panther costumes-- whether the character's full raiment or just
his claws and mask-- are on toy store shelves (and, of course, on
Amazon) in anticipation of the film's Feb. 16 release. At best, the
character get-ups speak to the enthusiastic embrace of a black
superhero. At worst, they could be perceived as an unwitting form of
cultural appropriation, which has in recent years become a subject of
What does that dual significance mean for children? And, perhaps more
urgently, what does it mean for the parents who will buy the costumes
"As parents, or even as the people creating costumes, we need to be very
aware of what that says," said Brigitte Vittrup, an associate professor
of early childhood development and education at Texas Woman's
University. "There's not a whole lot of black superheroes, so this is a
really important thing, especially for black kids growing up."
Many parents are split on how Black Panther's blackness should figure
into their children's relationship to the character. Some argue that
placing racial boundaries around expressions of fandom is unnecessary.
"I'm actually wondering now what it might be like for that parent who's
not of color if his kid comes home and says, 'I want to dress up like
Black Panther,'" said Katrina Jones, 39, the director of human resources
at Vimeo. "When I look at it, I see no reason why a kid who's not black
can't dress like Black Panther. Just like our kid who's not white
dresses up like Captain America. I think the beautiful thing about
comics is they do transcend race in a lot of ways."
Mary Dimacali, 29, a social media and marketing manager in Rockland
County, New York, echoed that idea. She does not believe that her
fiance's 7-year-old son, Sawyer, who is white, sees the film or its
characters through the lens of race. Sawyer himself, during the
interview with Ms. Dimacali, said, "Sure," when she asked if he'd like
to dress up as Black Panther.
"For a white kid to be so open and judge based on the character's story
and the personality and history, I think that's what¹s important," she
said. "But on the flip side, I think it's also great to have a black
superhero you can identify and connect to."
The character's history is unique. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in
1966, Black Panther rules as the king of an African technological utopia
known as Wakanda. Untouched by European invaders, Wakanda exists apart
from the legacies of colonization and racism. Black history and black
fantasy are central to the character, and the series has brought on
prominent black writers including Ta-Nehisi Coates to deepen its
significance over the last 50 years. Consequently, some parents have
felt pressure to hammer home Black Panther's heroism through the lens of
"I'm conflicted," said Evan Narcisse, a senior writer for the website
io9. He is completing "Rise of the Black Panther", a six-part comic
series for Marvel that traces the character's early history. He has
tried to explain some of that history to his 7-year-old daughter, but
without delving too deeply into complex concepts like Western
imperialism, which she may struggle to grasp.
"You want that white kid to be able to think that he can dress up in a
Black Panther costume, because, to that kid, there's no difference
between Captain America and Black Panther," Mr. Narcisse, 45, said. But,
he added, it also involves "trying to explain what is special about
T'Challa and Wakanda without racism. And it's like, 'Can't do it.' I
couldn't do it."
According to the ticketing site Fandango, BLACK PANTHER set a record
among Marvel films for the most advance tickets sold in a 24-hour
period. It's projected to make a record-breaking $165 million over
Presidents' Day weekend and comparisons to last year's WONDER WOMAN bode
well for its reception and impact, particularly for black people.
"White people have the privilege of not constantly being reminded of
their race in the United States, where white is the majority, whereas as
a black person you don't," Ms. Vittrup said. She believes that parents
in general, and white parents in particular, are reluctant to talk about
race with young children. When they do, they often miss the chance to
talk about inequality, even though research supports the idea that
children develop an awareness of race and difference at a very young age.
Ms. Vittrup was careful to add that dressing as Black Panther isn't
inherently appropriative or offensive. The character comes from an
invented African country, and to wear his mask isn't quite the same as
wearing blackface. However, in a moment where even more black heroes,
like Luke Cage and Black Lightning, are finding their way into the
limelight, Black Panther's relationship with the black community and its
history creates an opportunity to teach non-black children about the
"Kids are not colorblind," she said. "There's a lot of structural
inequality in our society, and kids are noticing that. By not mentioning
it, by not talking about it, we¹re essentially preserving the status