Black Panther isn’t just a movie, it’s a movement. Before it even hit theaters, the superhero movie, set in the fictional African country Wakanda and featuring a predominantly black cast, was breaking records: According to Fandango, in the first 24 hours tickets were released, Black Panther’s advance sales topped Captain America: Civil War’s, making it the best-selling Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever. To date, it’s pulled in more than $500 million in ticket sales (the third movie to reach that revenue so quickly), and at a time when inexpensive online streaming trumps expensive movie tickets, it’s forecasted to break the $1 billion mark. Black Panther is currently one of the highest-ranked superhero movies on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 97% approval rating, besting The Dark Knight and Iron Man.
But massive ticket sales and historic ratings aren’t the only things that distinguish Black Panther. In anticipation of the film’s release, fans began tagging photos of the outfits they planned to wear to theaters. Memes referencing looks from the 1988 movie Coming to America—about a young African prince (Eddie Murphy) who leaves the fictional country of Zamunda in search of a princess in America—popped up everywhere, filled with regal clothing: gold jewelry, furs, headwraps, and more.
Celebrities including Gabrielle Sidibe, Tia Mowry-Hardrict, and Insecure’s Yvonne Orji were among the filmgoers dressed up in Wakanda-inspired looks, tagging their outfits with the quickly spreading hashtag #WakandaCameToSlay. It was the first time (as far as I can recall) that a movie with an all-black cast inspired black people to dress up in this way. Angela Edmunds, a fashion stylist and the first African American showroom owner in Philadelphia, at Showroom 77, echoes this, saying she could not remember the last time black people had a Black Panther moment. “I do remember that black women were dressed impeccably to go see Sex and the City [the movie], because in some ways the fashion in the film was relatable,” she says. “Black Panther is giving people a sense of pride. This movie is presenting us with a hero—several heroes—representing us as people who are dignified and magnificent. We love to see ourselves in a positive light. This movie has made it clear that when you cast people we identify with, you make money.”
Flowing fabrics and bold African prints filled with bright colors have lit up movie theaters around the country. Says Tiffany H., a Los Angeles native, of her outfit, “I wanted to look and feel like a queen. I have always loved my culture, but this movie made me proud that my ancestors were from Africa. We were kings, queens, warriors, and have great wisdom.”
Laquisha A., from Philadelphia, expresses a similar sentiment. “My look was inspired by the people of Kenya along with my everyday style. When the opportunity came to dress up for the Black Panther screening, I jumped at the chance.”
There’s a reason that fans went to theaters to see Black Panther instead of waiting to stream it from home. The movie inspires community pride. It’s about cultural appreciation. Dressing up to go to the theater is our way of expressing unity through fashion.