Cultural Appropriation or Not? Parents Speak Out About Black Panther Halloween Costumes
In a piece for The New York Times, Kwame Opam wrote that Black Panther costumes "could be perceived as an unwitting form of cultural appropriation"
Parents of white children may want to think twice before purchasing a Black Panther Halloween costume this year.
The blockbuster superhero film is sure to spawn some of the most popular get-ups this season, but many are advising parents to consider all angles before giving in to their children’s wishes — namely, exploring the idea of whether a white child dressing up as any of the film’s black characters would be considered cultural appropriation.
In a piece for The New York Times published shortly ahead of the film’s February release, Kwame Opam interviewed multiple individuals who gave their opinion on whether white children donning the iconic outfit and mask of T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, would be ignorant, innocent or somewhere in between.
“As parents, or even as the people creating costumes, we need to be very aware of what that says,” Brigitte Vittrup, who is an associate professor of early childhood development and education at Texas Woman’s University, told the NYT. “There’s not a whole lot of black superheroes, so this is a really important thing, especially for black kids growing up.”
“White people have the privilege of not constantly being reminded of their race in the United States, where white is the majority, whereas as a black person you don’t,” added Vittrup, who also opined that putting on the mask of a fictional character isn’t the same as wearing blackface.
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Others who spoke with Opam admitted to being on the fence regarding how they felt about white children dressing up as T’Challa. Said Katrina Jones of Twitch, “When I look at it, I see no reason why a kid who’s not black can’t dress like Black Panther. Just like our kid who’s not white dresses up like Captain America. I think the beautiful thing about comics is they do transcend race in a lot of ways.”
“For a white kid to be so open and judge based on the character’s story and the personality and history, I think that’s what’s important,” chimed in social-media and marketing manager Mary Dimacali, who hails from Rockland County, New York. “But on the flip side, I think it’s also great to have a black superhero you can identify and connect to.”
Evan Narcisse — a senior writer for io9 who’s currently working on a comic series titled Rise of the Black Panther for Marvel — told the NYT he feels “conflicted” about the issue in terms of the roadblocks he would face in explaining them to his 7-year-old daughter.
“You want that white kid to be able to think that he can dress up in a Black Panther costume because, to that kid, there’s no difference between Captain America and Black Panther,” he said, explaining that it also requires “trying to explain what is special about T’Challa and Wakanda without racism. And it’s like, ‘Can’t do it.’ I couldn’t do it.”
RELATED VIDEO: Sterling K. Brown on the Power of Representation in Black Panther: “He Looks Like My Son”
As Halloween approaches, many fans of the film are speaking out on social media about their opinions surrounding the costume controversy. Wrote one supporter, “I have no problem with a kid wearing a costume of his or her favorite character regardless of race or gender. Children are ‘colorblind’ until society shows them that there is a difference. Just visit any pre-k school in a city then visit the high school in the same city.”
“All Races dress up like all superheroes all the time so don’t get offended when white people dress up in black panther costumes. I think it’s the ultimate compliment,” a second Twitter user remarked.
Others didn’t quite see it that way, with one posting an open letter: “Dear White People: Yes, Black Panther came to cinemas in February so yes, this Halloween will be prime time for BP costumes. PLEASE NOTE: There ARE White characters in BP for you. I don’t wanna see any bald headed ass white women talmbout they the Dora Milaje. Best regards, Me.”
A fourth user wrote of the only major white character in the film (Everett Ross, played by Martin Freeman), “White people thinking about dressing up or doing cosplay for Black Panther: this is the only acceptable character costume to wear. No exceptions.”
Many celebrity parents have spoken out in the past about how important Chadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of T’Challa and his costars’ performances have positively impacted their children.
“I’m so grateful to Marvel because about five years ago, my son asked me if there were any brown Legos,” Sandra Bullock — mom to son Louis, 8½ — said at the 2018 Academy Awards in March. “And I said, ‘Yes, there are,’ and I got a Sharpie and I turned Spider-Man brown, I turned the Legos brown, and I don’t have to turn them brown anymore.”
Sterling K. Brown, who starred in the film, told PEOPLE in August 2017 that he “can’t wait to see little white kids dressing up as Black Panther.”