‘Black Panther’ and the Revenge of the Black Nerds



“Black Panther” lived up to the hype. After a yearlong marketing campaign, the superhero film is rightly enjoying enormous success. It broke Fandango’s presale ticket record for superhero films. Movie critics are euphoric. Now one thing is clear: It’s cool to be a black nerd.


I wish this had been true when I was in high school in the late 1990s in Oklahoma. I played football because I’m six feet tall and that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But I would often skip practice to hide in the locker room and read comic books featuring black characters like the X-Men’s Lucas Bishop. I wanted to escape into a world of fantasy populated by characters who looked like me. Full of youthful angst, I spent many sleepless nights wondering whether there was something wrong with me; none of my friends had similar interests. I didn’t know a single black person who read comic books.


Now I know that to be a black nerd is by no means anomalous; millions of people who look like me grew up loving comic books. Yet despite our numbers, we were underground for a long time. Today, though, there appears to be a widening cultural appreciation for what black people have always known: There are many ways to be black in America. The 44th president helped.

Barack Obama meant a lot to black nerds. Jordan Peele, the director of “Get Out,” told NPR back in 2012, “Up until Obama, it was basically Urkel and the black guy from ‘Revenge of the Nerds.’” Mr. Obama showed us that to be black and nerdy could actually be an expression of black cool, what the author Rebecca Walker, who compiled a series of essays on that topic, defines as audacity, resistance and authenticity in the face of white supremacy.

“What’s remarkable is the way ‘nerd’ is such a badge of honor now,” Mr. Obama told Popular Science in 2016. “Growing up, I’m sure, I wasn’t the only kid who read Spider-Man comics and learned how to do the Vulcan salute, but it wasn’t like it is today.” He added, “I think America’s a nerdier country than it was when I was a kid — and that’s a good thing!”

New York Times