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"Black Panther" Much More Than Just A Movie

     

The latest superhero movie "Black Panther" is expected to break box-office records upon its release, but the movie's significance for the African-American community could be far more lasting.

Lupita Nyong'o, who stars as the female lead Nakia, recently said: "Black Panther could unite Americans and perhaps the rest of the world." This is the first superhero movie featuring a predominantly black cast, director and production crew.

The superhero movie genre has a history of showing ways for a diverse group of people to bond together in a classic good vs. evil fight. People look to superheroes to be inspirational and role models.

"The beauty of cinema is you all go into a room together and agree to suspend your disbelief and share this experience of another world," Nyong'o said in a recent interview with TeenVogue. "It reinforces our sense of community. These big blockbuster superhero films appearing in moments when we're so polarized are some of the few chances we all get to be on the same page."

The feeling of community has had strong reverberations within the African-American community leading up to the movie's premiere. In early February the hashtag "WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe" was the number one trend on Twitter and continues to evoke emotional responses from people of all backgrounds.

@okayafrica: #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe is giving us life today. To us, 'Black Panther' means black kids get to see beautiful examples of black excellence, genius, & originality. Reply and tell us what it means to you.

Psychiatrist Kali Cyrus, M.D. Assistant Professor, Yale Department of Psychiatry and former APA fellow, noted: "I think that the emotional benefit of Black Panther has manifested in a few different ways ranging from obvious to more passive expression... For me, it really has boosted my morale... My world—(Instagram, local tv news, local radio, podcasts) is saturated with news of Black Panther. My black, nerdy, comic book, young professional friends are out-of-this-world excited and have been for years knowing of its development."

Cyrus also noted the benefits of a positive black role model. "I do know that my patients derive great benefit from exposure to black role models. Since medical school, it has been customary for my black patients to comment on how good it feels to have a black doctor or how they have never been treated by a black doctor before... So, most of the self-worth, or statements naming me as a role-model are not explicit, but it's an overwhelming, sense of connection that puts them at ease knowing at least we have one thing in common (black skin) and gives them something to work with, which usually leads to finding common ground with me... "

Uchenna Okoye, M.D., M.P.H, a resident physician at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and an APA Board of Trustee member, describes herself as a Marvel fan, but her excitement for the movies goes beyond fandom.

"As an African-American woman of Nigerian heritage, I am excitedly awaiting this film in particular," Okoye said. "The creation of a major film with a powerful black cast and hero, to me and many others, sets black people in our true light...as complex, resilient, beautiful, courageous and excellent! This film more accurately represents our essence and potential than other media depictions.

"This empowering narrative is a step toward overshadowing and correcting the overabundance of negative and devaluing images of African Americans. It serves as an agent of social change by countering this unjust norm. Black Panther more accurately characterizes our group identity and reinforces the positive attributes in us as individuals. There is a strong body of literature supporting that this bolsters self-esteem, and furthermore, positively impacts our mental health and well-being."

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