How Disney Seeded the market for Black Panther Success

Writing this after Marvel Studios Black Panther continues to break records as it accumulates over 1 billion dollars at the US and Global Box Office.

Whilst many commentators have welcomed this outstanding  and unprecedented feat for a African-Amercian directed and staring an (almost) exculsive Black cast (see below image). It was not without risks, particularly given its budget of $200 million.

The share holders of Disney (the parent company of Marvel Studios) would not be happy taking that level of risk, irrespective of the excellent story and design that makes up, along with its cast surely the best superhero film of 2018. No, Black Panther (2018) is part of a larger strategy that Disney has devised to make itself and its catalogues more reflective of the USA (and by extension) increasingly demand for multiracial and multicultural content whilst at the same time not alienation it more conservative (read white) base that it has build up over the companies history. 

 The assembled Cast of Marvel Studio's 1 billion dollar grossing Black Panther (2018) 

The assembled Cast of Marvel Studio's 1 billion dollar grossing Black Panther (2018) 

The first step toward this was in the rebooting of the Star Wars franchises when Disney brought out Lucas Film for $4 billion and quickly announced the production of a new trilogy set after the original series of films. The film for the first time concentrated on new characters that meant to take the series beyond the (relative) disaster of the 'prequel trilogy' in the early to mid 2000s led by Oscar Isaacs, Adam Driver, Brits' Daisy Ridley;  but it was the casting of British-Nigerian Actor John Boyega that was sign of the fresh direction of the series would take and ultimately in the new direction for Disney in the 21st Century.

 John Boyega controversial introduction into the Star Wars franchise ni Star Wars the Force Awakens (2015)

John Boyega controversial introduction into the Star Wars franchise ni Star Wars the Force Awakens (2015)

Long term 'fans' decried the fact that their could ever be a 'Black stormtrooper' was ridcludous and the accompanying marketing led everyone to believe that the John Boyega' character Finn was the Jedi in training led to further consternation among fans only at the end for Daiy Ridley character Rey to use Luke Skywalker Light Sabre against the villain Kylo Ren.

This was smart engineering on Disney part - creating a character (albeit one in a universe populated by prosthetic and CGI aliens and space ships) and expanding the roles for both people of color and women (Star Wars universe was the butt of the jokes wherein Princes Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher and Lando played by Billy Dee Williams where the only two representatives of there kind).

The film was a success relaunching the franchise for a new generation and expanding its market beyond white middle aged males, the series now into its second film with Star Was: The Last Jedi (2018) (plus one prequel to the originals film in Star Wars: Rebel One (2016))  has paid off Disneys initial $4 billion investment with toy and merchandise licensing and increased it's own profile beyond children and adolescents. 

But in retrospective Disney, it seems was planning something more spectacular than in a galaxy far far away. Rather than resting on its laurels it look to properties in its Intellectual property acquisition of Marvel. Whilst the film of Iron Man, Captain America and the Assembled Avengers proved an early success from 2010, they where generally a white male affair (the only female protagonist that wasn't a love interest: the Black Widow acted as support to either Iron Man or Captain America, as only now in 2018 Disney are developing a film , mostly as a response to the success of Warners/DC Comics rival Wonder Woman (2017)).

But that changed in Captain America: Civil War (2016) an uneven film that introduced a popular storyline for the comics into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most people where excited baby the introduction of Sony owned (for the use of films, anyway) Spider-Man but it, in retrospect in was the introduction of T'Challa aka Black Panther that is proving to be more important in terms of Hollywoods representation of underrepresented heroes and heroines.

 Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther standing next to the Avengers in Captain America Civil War (2016) 

Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther standing next to the Avengers in Captain America Civil War (2016) 

Writing this, today its easy to say that Black Panther's success was preordained - no body goes to spend $200 million on a hunch, no matter if Black culture is having a renaissance in the media, music charts or TV. Like the casting of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who last year, compared to, say the casting of  Kate Mulgrew as Captain Katherine Janeway in Star Trek Voyager in 1995 is part of more gender equality in tv roles, likewise Black Panther success is apart fo a wider trend, of increasing demand for more culture that represents greater diversity. Imagine spending millions of dollars on a film based in large part in Africa back, say in 1998 when Wesley Snipes was in Blade (1998) - which is a good film but only because Snipes was a major star and the film content was as far from the comic book source material (Stan Lee even doesn't his usual appearance that he even manages in non-marvel films) and lets not mention Catwoman (2004).

I'm not saying that Black Panther isn't a breathe of fresh air - it is, and excellent and enjoyable one at that, even among the plethora of Super hoer films that now dominate the global box office.  But no one os going to spend that level of money and hope to get it back to share holders quite the contrary Black Panther has done it far faster than other Disney/Marvel film so far, and a sequel is being planned. But Disney have done there home work, researching and seeding the market over the last five or so years.

 A poster prompting Disney's A Wrinkle in Time directed by  Ava DuVernay  

A poster prompting Disney's A Wrinkle in Time directed by Ava DuVernay 

The point is demonstrate by the close release of Ava DuVaney's Wrinke in Time (2018) that stars Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling  - whilst somewhat receiving mixed reviews in t he press, its performance has been good though somewhat over shadowed by Black Panthers occupation of the top slots in the earnings chart. It shows that Disney is using both its data from its vast media empire and its leverage in marketing to capture (and capitalise) on the demand for alternative stories - it just needs to take a bit more risk and invest in original stories than just to rely on established properties such as Star Wars and marvel comics to make a serious commitment to diversity, the audience including me is interested in the future if it looks like this