Friday, September 27, 2019

Queer Black Panther

NOTE: This post serves as the tenth and final installment in The Wild Reed's 2019 Queer Appreciation series.

Ryan Coogler's Black Panther was one of my favorite films of last year, mainly because of how groundbreaking it was on a number of levels. Most notably, Black Panther was the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to place a black superhero front and center. It's also one of only a very few films to feature a black director (Coogler) and a majority black cast (including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Forest Whitaker). In addition, Black Panther explores questions and issues about race and identity to a depth never before attempted by a film in the "superhero" genre.

Film critic Kenneth Turan succinctly sums up the significance and appeal of Black Panther when he writes:

A superhero movie whose characters have integrity and dramatic heft, laced with socially conscious commentary as well as wicked laughs, Black Panther is the model of what an involving popular entertainment ought to be but hardly ever is.

Queer appeal

Black Panther is, of course, based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's revolutionary comic book character of the same name.

As both a comic book and a film, Black Panther has a queer appeal. What do I mean by this? Well, I've come to understand that to be "queer" is to attempt to expand or go beyond (in thought, word or deed) the parameters of gender, race, heterosexuality, patriarchy, and other socially-constructed (or manipulated) concepts. Laurence Coleman, in discussing vocalist Dusty Springfield as a queer icon, says that embracing this understanding of queer “denotes a spectrum not only of identity and practice but also inquiry.” Accordingly, to be queer is to be a questioner and subverter of what Michael Warner has called “regimes of the normal,” and not just in matters to do with sexuality and sexual expression, but also in matters of gender, class, and race.

For many people, a definite appeal of Black Panther is that it boldly questions and subverts in entertaining ways, “regimes of the normal” as they relate to gender and race. (It almost did the same with sexuality, as Linda Lang documents here.)

I celebrate the subversion and transformation of any status quo that is oppressive and limiting, and without doubt Black Panther does this. Accordingly, I think it's fair to say that it is queer in the broadest and deepest sense of the word.

Queer male sexuality

Black Panther is also queer in the more focused sense of sexuality. Though not as obvious or resolute as its focus on race and gender, a queer take on sexuality is nonetheless observable, simply and beautifully, in the film's celebration of the impressive physiques of the main Wakandan characters (both male and female); in Black Panther's body-hugging outfit (one that emphasizes the male body's "tools of attraction"); in the sensual, cat-like way T'challa / Black Panther moves; and in the young king of Wakanda's journey and travails in becoming a hero.

This last observation is important as for many people who do not identify exclusively as heterosexual, the trials of comic book superheroes are often perceived to reflect their own struggle to be who they really are in a world that fears and misunderstands them.

“When I was a teenager,” one gay man told Gerard Jones, author of the book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, “superheroes were obviously about being queer. Clark Kent shedding that hideous [business] suit and shooting into the sky in his tights? What else [could it be about]?”

I think a very similar thing can be said for T'challa, not only in his donning of his tight-fitting Black Panther suit, but in his efforts to move Wakanda out of the shadows so as to openly reveal and share the country's immense riches and unique gifts with the wider world, a move that is both liberating and risky, much like coming out as queer.

I think it's also important to note that this sexuality-focused display of male queerness as described above is present in the original and current Black Panther comic books, as the illustrations below clearly show.

– Art by Rich Buckler and Glynis Wein; text by Don McGregor (1973)

– Art by Bob Brown; text by Steve Englehart (1973)

– Art by John Romita Jr. (2018)

Queer fan art

Of course, as has been noted previously at The Wild Reed, in the always entertaining world of fan art, many popular superheroes are often depicted as queer, particularly in relation to sex and sexuality.

The image at right by Steven Garcia is one of the more explicit examples of this. Yet regardless of how in-your-face or subtle such depictions may be, they all speak to just how many queer superhero fans there are out there, and how strongly they want to see themselves represented by and within this particular genre.

A common theme in a lot of "queer fan art" conveys the notion that the fierce tension and antagonism that exists between certain male superheroes is actually a sign of mutual (though repressed) sexual desire. The role of the fan artist, it would seem, is to give these characters an opportunity to let loose with this desire.

In the world of Wakanda, we see this depicted primarily in images showing T'Challa / Black Panther with Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (left, by NightWolf), but also with Bucky Barnes / the Winter Soldier and with M’Baku, leader of Wakanda's Jabari tribe.

Following are a few more examples of fan art that depicts a queer Black Panther. (NOTE: For NSFW depictions of queer Black Panther, see the version of this article posted at The Wild Reed's brother site, The Leveret.)

Above and below: T'Challa / Black Panther and Erik "Killmonger."


– Artist unknown





Above and below: T'Challa / Black Panther and Bucky Barnes / the Winter Soldier.

– Artist unknown


Above: T'Challa / Black Panther (right) and M’Baku, leader of Wakanda's Jabari tribe.


Above: Erik "Killmonger," T'Challa / Black Panther, and M’Baku.


Related Off-site Links:
The Racial Politics of Black Panther – Mikhail Lyubansky (Psychology Today, February 20, 2018).
The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther – Jamil Smith (Time, February 2018).
10 Important Things You Might Have Missed While Watching Marvel's Black Panther – Lanette Mantle (Odyssey, March 20, 2018).
Why Black Panther Is Such a Big Deal for Women – Emily Rems (Salon, April 4, 2018).
Black Panther Sequel Set for 2022 Release – Erin Nyren (Variety, August 24, 2019).
This Artist Reimagined Superheroes as Pinup ModelsGaiety, December 17, 2019).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
“Avengers Assemble!”
Jason Johnson on Stan Lee's Revolutionary Legacy
Another First for Black Panther
“Something Special,” Indeed!
Season of the (Scarlet) Witch
One Divine Hammer
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, But Definitely Queer
Adam Sandel on the Queer Appeal of Harry Potter
Musings on the Possibility of “FinnPoe” in the Star Wars Saga
Thoughts on Queer Cinema

For previous installments in The Wild Reed's 2019 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Quote of the Day – May 31, 2019
James Baldwin's Potent Interweavings of Race, Homoeroticism, and the Spiritual
John Gehring on Why Catholics Should Participate in LGBTQ Pride Parades
A Dance of Queer Love
The Queer Liberation March: Bringing Back the Spirit of Stonewall
Barbara Smith on Why She Left the Mainstream LGBTQI Movement
Remembering the Stonewall Uprising on Its 50th Anniversary
In a Historic First, Country Music's Latest Star Is a Queer Black Man
Historian Martin Duberman on the Rightward Shift of the Gay Movement

No comments: