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Blockbuster movie ‘Black Panther’ and Mental Health Conversations Collide

By Kia Williams, MD, MSPH and Larry Wu, MD | March 9, 2018 | Health Conditions

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The movie “Black Panther” continues to break records worldwide.

Breaking records and creating conversations 

Director Ryan Coogler blends culturally-relevant messages and historically accurate costumes in every scene. He brings Wakanda, the African land known to comic-book readers, to life. In the movie, Wakanda is a rich and unspoiled land. The technology and natural power of a fictional metal, ‘vibranium’, allow this hidden African community to thrive without exploitation. This is a stark contrast to the feeling of many African-Americans today. It is also vastly different from the experiences of their ancestors. 

Wakanda vs America

Wakandans were not rooted in thoughts of slavery, sharecropping, or Jim Crow. They did not face race-based omissions from health, social and economic support. They did not need to fight against socioeconomic and health disparities.  

In real-life, these disparities result in disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, drug abuse and underemployment for black/African Americans.

Historically, studies link greater burdens of poor mental health (which often go untreated) on those in minority communities. The movie “Black Panther,” creates an opportunity for society to take a closer look at the stigma often linked to mental health in minority communities.

Here are some facts:

Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious mental distress than whites. As of 2010, fifty-five percent of all Black/African American people live in the South.

One study focused on attitudes and coping behaviors and suggests:

  • Many people of color hold values linked to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking. These factors change their coping responses. Generally speaking, participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging mental problems. But, they were somewhat open to seeking mental health care.
  • Some appeared worried about seeking help, which is commonly based on past research.

Culture and Stigma

Stigma, mistrust, and judgment often stop people of color from seeking care for their mental illnesses. Research suggests that many believe that mild depression or anxiety would be viewed as a weakness in their social circles. The lack of discussion about mental illness can cause further suffering and isolation.

Getting Help and Rising Above

You don’t need superhero powers to overcome these stigmas and get help. Mental health issues are very treatable.  Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri) discussed her battles with depression in a recent Teen Vogue interview. Most conditions are best helped by learning new ways of psychologic coping through psychotherapy. Medications are often recommended for short-term care. Studies have shown that a combination of these treatments can provide lifelong better mental health.

Here are links to common conditions based on our research:

If you think you have symptoms, or at risk, overcome any reservations – get help.

[button link=”” type=”icon” color=”lightblue”] Call the member help line on your Blue Cross NC ID card or click HERE to find a doctor online.[/button]



Ward, E. C., Wiltshire, J. C., Detry, M. A., & Brown, R. L. (2013). African American men and women’s attitude toward mental illness, perceptions of stigma, and preferred coping behaviors. Nursing Research62(3), 185-194. doi:10.1097/NNR.0b013e31827bf533