Plenty has been written already about the special place Black Panther, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has not only in that series but also the overall film landscape. I won’t rehash that here since most of it is covered over the course of the blog post you’re about to read. Suffice it to say that we haven’t seen a big-budget superhero movie like this before.
When we met T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War two years ago he was the heir to the throne of the hidden, secretive African kingdom of Wakanda. His elevation came when, in that movie, his father the king was killed by terrorists. Now he’s returning home to assume his place and lead his people and help his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) mourn.
Helping him are his genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his loyal protectors Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) along with other comrades and friends. Threats emerge when charismatic dissident Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) begins working with arms deal Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). T’Challa enlists not only the help of his own subjects but also CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) to take on the pair.
The first poster is about establishing T’Challa as royalty, showing him on his thrown in a massive room. That’s about it. He’s sporting the same basic outfit he was in CA: Civil War, meaning he’s recognizable as the character to audiences. It’s a great first effort, soon followed by another that put the Panther atop a mountain, standing on a giant panther totem as he looks out over his kingdom.
The theatrical poster took the same tech-heavy focus as the trailer it came out at the same time as. T’challa is positioned at the top of the design, with the supporting characters arranged in front of him. Surrounding all them is the intricate, almost alien-looking architecture and design of Wakanda, with beautiful inlays and magnificent towers, as well as two massive panther statues flanking the title treatment at the bottom. “Long live the king.” is the copy that finishes it all off.
A whole series of posters showed each one of the major characters up close and looking kind of badass. Each also featured a small bit of copy that explains what their motivation or other key character trait is. T’Challa’s, for instance, has “His father’s legacy.” These are pretty incredible.
The movie’s Dolby AMC release got a special poster that had a watercolor feel, very much seeming like a comic book cover as it shows the Panther coming toward the camera against a white background. It’s a more minimalist approach but it still works. An IMAX-specific one-sheet sells audiences on that experience, using a very Struzan-like painting of Panther and the rest of the main characters arrayed around him, the Wakandan capital city gleaming in the distance toward the bottom. This may be my favorite of the posters in the entire campaign. Similarly strong was a Regal Cinemas’ exclusive that has the Panther’s face looking out at the audience from an opening in the black background shaped like the continent of Africa.
The first trailer opens with Klaw, seen briefly in Captain America: Civil War, asking what his questioner knows about Wakanda. He goes on to explain he’s the only white man to see it and live. As we hear this we see shots of the amazing country and its people, who fiercely protect its location and advances. That leads to Panther breaking up an incursion into his country. When we get a better look at Wakanda we see it’s full of amazing vehicles and other technology. That’s all intercut with footage of various fighting going on and we hear about how hard it is for a good man to be a king.
That’s an amazing debut that sets up a lot of the story and introduces us to to the bigger world T’Challa is from and just how incredible and dangerous it is. Really strong first effort here that was well-received until some idiots started to mess with things.
The full trailer starts out by establishing a sense of awe and wonder, both with the visuals on display and the dialogue we hear. T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to embrace his destiny as king of this mysterious, technologically-advanced kingdom, but threats are present both from within and without. There are amazing stunts shown and incredible action sequences, along with plenty of emotion as well. We get the overall story, which is that Killmonger is unhappy with the current regime and has teamed with Klaw to cause problems and take T’Challa out of the equation.
OK great, but can we talk about Nakia and Okoye? These two, T’Challa’s confidants and protectors, are all the ass-kicking that’s necessary. I immediately want a story of them on their own. Other than that, this looks like a movie that just *feels* different than most of what Marvel Studios has put out to date. That’s in part the cast and, I’m sure, in part Coogler’s involvement. I’m on board in a way I haven’t been for some of the other recent output.
Online and Social
Marvel Studios’ official website for the movie opens with one of the trailers, which is definitely worth watching again, particularly if you haven’t done so in a while. After that’s done text emerges with the question “Tell me something…What do you know about Wakanda?” When you scroll down as prompted you come across a number of stills and GIFs, all of which can be shared on Twitter or Facebook. That scrolling is divided up into sections that cover the history of the country, the threats that have emerged, what it is they’re fighting over and the people who are vying for leadership or advising those doing so. It’s a cool way to expand on the mythology and introduce the characters.
At the top of the page – and persistent as you scroll – there’s also a more traditional content menu that starts with “Synopsis.” That’s followed by a “Cast” section that uses the character posters we saw above and which can be clicked on for more information. “Gallery” has a number of production stills. There’s a link to listen to the soundtrack album on Spotify in the “Music” section. Finally “Partners” has links to the companies who are helping to promote the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising kicked off with a commercial that emphasized the history of the character and how the Pantry was coming out into the rest of the world for the first time. Also, lots of cool action and effects. Further TV spots kept up the hip-hop musical theme and focused on the conflict between Killmonger and the Panther for the throne of Wakanda, showing how T’Challa has to defend his title and protect his people.
An extended TV spot aired during a college football game in early January that showed a bit more, from T’Challa’s assumption of the throne to Killmonger’s plans to stage a coup. There’s more of an emphasis here on the women in the story, from the king’s mother Ramonda to Nakia and Okoye. Another aired during the Grammys and was therefore heavy on the music from Kendrick Lamar (who got snubbed, according to many, at the ceremony) and SZA.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
- Lexus, which released details of its partnership with the studio in advance of a big event being held at San Diego Comic-Con last year. That deal included a graphic novel in which the carmaker’s latest models play an integral role. It also included a co-branded Super Bowl TV spot to show off the LC500 model that debuted at SEMA last year and was also shown at the Detroit Auto Show in January. That commercial was also used as a paid ad on Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.
- Disney promoted the movie through the Noovie pre-show package fro National Cinemedia with clips, behind-the-scenes footage and more.
- Brisk, which offered co-branded packaging and produced a video spot featuring Jordan talking about how opportunities come from putting in the hard work behind-the-scenes, before the finished product is ever seen. That spot is kind of great and might be the best co-branded media I’ve seen in quite a while because it feels authentic. The drink brand alma ran a sweepstakes.
- Synchrony Bank, which ran a co-branded commercial that used the movie’s theme of teamwork to sell its savings accounts.
In advance of the movie’s release Marvel put a “Start Here” sampler comic featuring Black Panther on shelves to draw the attention of anyone who might come in looking to find out more about the character or want to dive deeper into his history. While it had just canceled one high-profile Panther book it launched a couple more, one that looked at T’Challa’s early years as a young prince and one that also went back to his youth but with more of a “flashback” focus. The latter is a digital-first exclusive written by the co-writer of Creed, directed of course by Coogler.
Media and Publicity
Well before the movie entered production, much less began it’s official marketing, there was plenty of conversation from the film’s producers and others about how it was going to be groundbreaking and important and all that.
Boseman, while promoting other movies he had at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, also dropped a few hints as to the evolution of Black Panther in the upcoming solo outing. He also appeared on “Kimmel” right after the first trailer premiered, seemingly because of that trailer debut and not for any other project he was promoting.
This movie was one of those that were highlighted to journalists who attended a behind-the-scenes look and tour at Marvel’s upcoming slate.
The movie got some premium promotional placement on the annual special issue of Entertainment Weekly it puts out to preview San Diego Comic-Con. That feature story included new photos, insights into some of the characters and their motivations and lots more. At Comic-Con itself the cast showed up to talk about the movie and show off footage that was exclusive to the audience there and not released online.
The movie was just one of Jordan’s many upcoming projects, a list that included another movie with Coogler and which would not only keep the actor quite busy but also signaled how in demand he was at the moment.
There was a big publicity pop when it was announced Kendrick Lamar would be producing and curating the movie’s soundtrack, news that was followed quickly by the release of a video for the first song off that album, “All The Stars,” featuring Lamar and SZA. The soundtrack would provide another source of significant press coverage when the full track list was released as would the eventual release of the official video for the song, which was filled with movie-themed visuals. Coogler talked about the process of assembling the album as well.
Stories like this also began appearing around that time that talked about how excited fans were for the movie, largely because it represents a significant step forward in representation of non-white males in super hero roles.
Not only did it appear at the top of two lists of this year’s most-anticipated films but it received a big press pop when Fandango announced it had sold the most pre-release tickets of any MCU entry.
The publicity took a sharp turn about a month out to focus on the female protectors of the king and the kingdom, including featurettes like this and a general tone that looked to leverage the cultural moment around fierce women claiming their own agency. That continued with a feature on Nyong’o that appeared right around the time of the movie’s premiere where she talked about her career in general but especially how the sexual harassment culture in Hollywood lead to her being sidelined for years until she – along with many other women – were able to reclaim their power. There was also a group interview with Nyong’o, Gurira and Letitia Wright, who plays the genius younger sister of T’Challa.
While at Sundance for another film, Whitaker talked about his experience his experience shooting the movie and how Coogler had created a story that was unlike anything that’s been seen before on a number of levels. Around that time an exclusive interview with Coogler in Essence revealed more details about the world of Wakanda and why the country is so mysterious and dangerous.
The movie’s upcoming release also occasioned a re-appreciation for Christopher Priest, the comics writer who reinvigorated and reimagined the character of Black Panther in a late-90’s run that heavily inspired its cinematic representation in various ways, including using many of the characters and situations Priest first laid out.
As release neared there was a palpable excitement for the movie as it became as much a movement as a movie. A number of notable celebrities donated to or organized fundraisers so kids in black neighborhoods could go see heroes – men and women – who looked like them. Fandango announced early ticket sales for Black Panther were higher than for any super hero movie to date. A similar feat was accomplished regarding IMAX ticket pre-sales.
A couple stories in Variety helped raise the film’s profile even more. One had Boseman Coogler talking about the road the movie has taken to production and the place it fits in culturally at the moment, as well as the widespread anticipation in the audience. Similar notes were hit by the movie’s writers, who added how they wanted to tell an uplifting story about honor and dignity. Letitia Wright was also interviewed about how the movie fits into her career to date and working with the other actors.
In addition to a one-off interview with Boseman in the LAT there was also a cover story in Time that emphasized how unusual it is for black people to see heroic characters who look like them on the big screen. And another interview with the women who play Wakanda’s warrior class.
In the final days of the campaign, there was one more burst of publicity. Coogler casually mentioned that Donald Glover had given the script a once-over early in pre-production and offered some feedback. There was also another huge feature with the director and most of the cast where they talked about the responsibility they felt to get the story right and accurately portray the characters. Meanwhile Wired profiled the cutting edge technology on display from the geniuses of Wakanda. Twitter then revealed this was the most-Tweeted about movie of 2018, which is saying something.
More than anything else, I’m glad the Marvel Studios team hasn’t gotten in the way of the creative talent who made the movie. Kevin Feige and others have been largely in the background of the publicity campaign ever since principle photography was truly underway and have let Coogler, Boseman, Nyong’o, Gurira, Wright and Jordan speak for themselves. That’s been an incredibly powerful aspect of the marketing, that these people were the subjects of countless interviews and features as they repeatedly talked about how greatly they felt the responsibility they were given to get this right.
It may sound trite, especially coming someone of my complexion, but I appreciate the way the so much of the campaign was rooted in culture and community. That extends from the emphasis on the soundtrack to the video Jordan was in for Brisk teas. And it’s certainly reflected in the way so many people, both well-known and every day, wanted to make sure the kids in the community could see the movie.
Finally, I think it sets itself apart by not holding its ties to the rest of the MCU so tightly it can’t stand on its own. Even though this is the first movie with the character in the lead he’s been seen elsewhere and the marketing could have taken the approach of highlighting the connective material to a much greater extent. Instead it’s able to stand on its own and is the stronger for it.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.