'Black Panther' struggles at Chinese box office, but not because of its 'blackness' | Entertainment News | SupChina

‘Black Panther’ struggles at Chinese box office, but not because of its ‘blackness’

After a sizzling opening weekend at the China box office, 'Black Panther' has fallen behind several new releases.

Left: The official Chinese poster for Black Panther. Right: The U.S. poster. 


Black Panther may be the biggest blockbuster in 2018, but that doesn’t mean that audiences in China feel the same way about the superhero movie as their North American counterparts. While the Ryan Cooler-directed film has continued to hit important milestones at the box office — it has dominated the North American box office for five consecutive weekends and is poised to become the highest-grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — its performance in China has been middling at best.

It didn’t start out this way. In fact, early box office numbers suggested an auspicious run for Black Panther. It earned $20.7 million on its opening day, the second-highest debut for a Marvel movie in China. Its release date also worked to its advantage, as it was the first Hollywood blockbuster to open in Chinese theaters after a “blackout period” during the Chinese New Year holiday, a protectionist measure that bans the release of foreign movies during more lucrative moviegoing seasons.

But its earnings began to fall precipitously afterwards. Currently, it is trailing Tomb Raider and two domestic propagandistic films, Operation Red Sea and Amazing China, at the daily box office. And even though Black Panther boasts a high 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, on Douban, China’s biggest movie review website, the movie has only obtained a 6.7 score, one of the lowest among all MCU films. (UPDATE, 3/22, 1:26 pm: We’ve edited the wording in the previous sentence to indicate that Black Panther is not the lowest rated MCU film on Douban, only one of. Captain America: The First Avenger received a 6.5 rating, and Thor has a 6.7 rating.)

Black Panther’s unremarkable performance in China is sure to give fuel to studios’ doubts about whether Chinese audiences would embrace a film with an all-black cast. In the Chinese marketing of the film, the blackness of Black Panther seems to be subtly downplayed. Instead of featuring the whole cast, as the U.S. poster does, the official Chinese movie poster of the film shows the lead, Chadwick Boseman, alone, and his face is barely visible through his Black Panther suit.

Certainly, China doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to the portrayal of black people. One of the most notorious examples of China’s racism or limited understanding of race was a tone-deaf laundry detergent commercial in 2016 that had a black man being shoved into a washing machine and then emerging as a “clean” Asian man. And earlier this year, the CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala caused social uproar when a skit that was intended to celebrate Sino-African relations included a Chinese actress in blackface.

Western media outlets like Quartz have zeroed in on the racism that supposedly undergirds Chinese moviegoers’ criticism of Black Panther. Specifically, Quartz has focused on Douban reviews of the film that complain about how the movie’s “blackness” — the nearly all-black cast on screen and the predominance of night scenes — made the viewing experience of Black Panther either soporific or “a torture to the eyes.” By contrast, Chinese entertainment outlets like Yuledujiaoshou have contended that in China, Marvel films aren’t necessarily the mega-hits that they are in North America and that Black Panther’s unexceptional performance is far from an isolated example. Industry insiders point out that there has always been a disparity between the cinematic preferences of Chinese and American audiences. This disparity has caused franchises like Star Wars to receive the cold shoulder in China, while the latest installments from film series like The Transformers, The Pirates of the Caribbean, and Resident Evil to be bolstered by the earnings they make in the world’s second-largest market.

A more comprehensive look at Douban reviews of Black Panther attests to the multiple factors that are in play in Chinese viewers’ dissatisfaction with the film. Several reviews took issue with the movie’s smaller scale. Instead of the “we have to save the world from being destroyed” high stakes of, say, an Avengers film, Black Panther focuses primarily on the titular character’s struggles to defend and keep his throne. This creative decision perhaps made the movie less compelling for Chinese viewers, who may be overly familiar with the trope thanks to the political infighting frequently portrayed in popular dynasty dramas. Many reviews also seem to express a general fatigue with the superhero movie genre, and criticisms of the movie’s “formulaic” and “uninspired” plot was a common through line on Douban.

Black Panther in China: A red carpet opening night near Tiananmen Square

Pang-Chieh Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho is currently an editor at Digg. She previously worked at China Film Insider as a newsletter editor and has been writing reviews on movies and pop culture since 2014.

21 Comments

  1. Mike Reply

    Why are you trying to be all apologistic for China instead of adressing that perhaps you all did mess up on the racism? I get it, you don’t wanna face it but you have to be humble about it instead of making excuse after excuse. That will only piss people off even more.

    1. WhoCares Reply

      So you’re suggesting that Black Panther grossing $100 million in China shows that Chinese moviegoers are racist? How does that work? Did all of those people who watched it just not know there were black people in the movie? Even if they actually are racist, citing Black Panther’s box office as proof of that is dumb.

    2. Karl Reply

      You do realize that outside of North America, Black Panther’s highest box office has come from China, right? Keep in mind that being the second biggest movie market doesn’t automatically equate to the second highest box office grosses. So I guess all of those countries outside of China are even more racist since they didn’t even go out to see the movie the way Chinese moviegoers did.

      You complain about China messing up on racism, but just focusing on Black Panther as proof of that is unconvincing. The last two Star Wars movies fared worse than Black Panther, so I guess the Chinese hate movies with Chinese and white actors too, right?

  2. Alex Kelly Reply

    Meanwhile, the movie will cross $100 million today in China which is a already more than Thor: Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 &2, Iron Man 2, Wonder Woman, Man Of Steel, Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Black Panther should finish with $103-105 million in China and that’s far from struggling. If you want to see struggling then check out the numbers in China for The Last Jedi. I don’t understand this article or see what its purpose was. So some Chinese users posted some racist comments but every country will have their share of racists. Also, the movie dropped 80% in its second weekend, but so did Spiderman: Homecoming. That is not uncommon. Black Panther never needed China to be successful and China was only a bonus. Even so, a $100 million outing in China is successful enough.

    1. Graham Reply

      Wow, I can’t agree enough. God bless you for those on point words. I don’t get this article either, rubbish article seeking for attention

    2. Pasquale Reply

      Where did you get 80%? Did you get it yourself from actual sales numbers or did you just accept a claim from some other writer? Maybe you made it up yourself. This website http://58921.com/film/7604/boxoffice has the actual box office numbers for all China’s movie theatres and if you can show a computation of the sums to prove that 80% figure, I’d like to see the math posted in reply.

    3. Pasquale Reply

      Where’s the proof of an 80% drop? The movie Black Panther made over $60 million USD the first weekend in China. It made over $40 million USD the second weekend.

  3. Robert Reply

    As a fan of Chinese cinema, I agree. Wakandan tribes are like Chinese dynasties. The best action is martial arts that Chinese audiences see all of the time. The CGI action was pretty weak and that is what they love about Transformers

  4. Black Yu Cheng Hui Reply

    But the Chinese were ultra enthusiastic about Wu Jing being the savior of a poor Africans in Wolf 2. They have no problem seeing black people in films once they are given lesser roles. But placing them in front? That’s a no-no. Stop being an apologist.

  5. BM Reply

    Isn’t Captain America civil war ranked at 6.3 on Douban? So that would mean it’s not the lowest ranked in MCU….

  6. D thomas Reply

    I agree with everything alex Kelly has said. So far there has been more sense in the comments section than in the actual article itself.

  7. Zara Reply

    This is one of the worst articles ever. Thanks for wasting my time. You could’ve really delved in deep on this topic and hit really important issues but instead the information is incorrect, not used correctly, and basically excuses. It makes sense considering the name of this site.

  8. CorrectnessIsWrong Reply

    This movie, because of its blackness, has become something like the Emperor’s New Clothes, anyone who does not like it will be immediately labeled as racist who hates blacks.

  9. Ogba Reply

    I can see that the article is afraid to address Chinese racism. They don’t have any problems sending their goods to Africa, buying up facilities, infrastructures in Africa. Racism is a way of life and unless there’s systemic and cultural attempt to deal with it, eventually China will only be looking at progress from the outside.

    Africa will not remain underdeveloped forever. Once the old, pathetic and disgraceful criminals are removed from power Africa will rise to the top again and China will only wish they had been more friendly. Same with the U.S., and the rest of Europe.

  10. Antony Reply

    Alex Kelly has presented a very good and valid, factually based on ratings, argument regarding Black Panther’s ratings against the other films he mentioned. However this is just a very convenient excuse and misdirection as to the true feelings and mentality of China towards Africa and black people.

    The real argument isn’t about the amount of takings the film has grossed in China, or about needing the Chinese market, as your comment focuses on. The fact is that the official advertising poster, which showed a multitude of black actors was drastically changed to a poster only showing one masked person, who’s colour could not be distinguished, should in itself be a point of concern.

    What were they afraid would have happened, if they advertised the official poster. Another point of concern were the many racially motivated comments made on Chinese social media in relation to the film being too black.

    To be honest, I am not at all surprised by the response given to this film by the Chinese. For many years now, the Chinese media and institutions have overtly promoted the extreme negative perception and images of black people, showing them to be less than human, equivalent to animals like apes, unintelligent and their black colour being dirty; to name a few.

    Black Yu Cheng Hui’s comment is very true and to the point, so stop apologising and trying to play down the true motivation behind why the Chinese don’t really approve of this film…

  11. Vernon Cameron Reply

    Silly article…Black panther did fine in China…Avengers hasn’t even opened yet and will do the same…gigantic opening and gigantic drop off…With all the folks in China all you need is a giant opening…lol…Next!

  12. Sophie Taylor Reply

    Well blank panther has done a pretty good business all over the world including China and now it becomes the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time in the world.

  13. Philip Vaughn Reply

    Black Panther actors had Transylvania accents. Poorly constructed script and propaganda galore. Bilbo Baggins looked ridiculous in every scene. Chinese audiences saw straight through this garbage.

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