Part 5 of the 5-Part Series on Crisis Communication
Crisis is inevitable. After reading through the empirical works of various experts, I have come to realise that crises are inevitable for organizations at some stage of their existence, but what matters is how well the organizations use the different crisis management theories and models to effectively plan ahead, manage during and repair after crises strike. In a world where the lines between traditional and new media are blurred, and proliferation and propagation of enduring images during or after crises cause them to demolish or repair the reputation of organizations (Ho, 2014), the importance of recovery after crises in public perception through evident and imageable repair of both symbolic and physical damages is incontrovertible (Austin, 2014).
Crisis may appear in many forms, triggering different emotional needs of stakeholders. In the Revised ICM Model, Jin, Pang, and Cameron (2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013) posit several crises, but there was one type of crisis that I had a difficult time mapping directly onto the model – the untimely death of an actor depicting a headline character in an ongoing movie franchise. I am specifically referring to the death of Chadwick Boseman who played the character of King T'Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Boseman passed away on August 29, 2020 (Boseman, 2020), after playing the character in four movies.
The character of King T'Challa/Black Panther was first introduced in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016) and was lauded by critics and fans alike (Abad-Santos, 2016). In 2017 the teaser trailer of the solo Black Panther movie received record views (Kit, 2017). And, in January 2018, the solo movie of Black Panther with Boseman playing the titular character opened in theatres and went on to win three Academy Awards (The Walt Disney Company, 2019) – the firsts for the incredibly successful Marvel Studios. Black Panther was significant for being the first superhero movie that had an African-American protagonist and a director of the same descent, being supported by very talented cast and crew, majorly featuring women and men of colour, during a time when the Black Lives Matter movement was creating ripples not only in the United States, but across the globe (Wallace, 2018; Smith, n.d.; Cullors, 2018).
The strategies undertaken by Marvel Studios to initiate its journey towards strengthening and transforming its image of being a superhero movie franchise with wide representation of races to gain acceptance from a global audience, after creating and maintaining an image of a superhero movie franchise for over a decade, which was deemed to be biased towards the white-skinned characters (Karim, 2018), drew my attention as it helped me understand Pang’s (2012) Crisis Pre-emptive Image Management Model. The success of Black Panther is showing a visible change in the line-up of movies and series that Marvel Studios is now producing with titular characters from different races being brought to life – character of the new Captain America is now being played by an African-American actor, Anthony Mackie; the character of Muslim superhero Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel would be played by Iman Vellani; and Simu Liu would be playing the character of Shang-Chi, a Chinese superhero.
The passing on of Boseman, who was regarded as a King by the fans after his immaculate portrayal of King T'Challa/Black Panther (Fear, 2020), could at best be mapped by me on Quadrant 2 of the Revised ICM Model as it was a natural occurrence beyond human control – requiring high engagement from Marvel Studios, cognitive coping from the fans with the emotions of anxiety and sadness being displayed by them (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013), several of whom urged Marvel Studios to not recast the character of T'Challa, but only pass on the mantel of Black Panther to another character (Garner, 2020). In December 2020, Marvel Studios announced that they will not recast the character of T'Challa in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ (2022) honouring Boseman’s legacy (Disney, 2020) – displaying the studio’s ‘accommodation’ stance on the Contingency Theory continuum, leading to increased ‘confidence’ among fans towards the studio (Pang et. al., 2020).
What would now be interesting to see is how Marvel Studios manages the storyline and introduces a new Black Panther or brings another titular character from a different race to the forefront to renew and reinvent the image (Pang, 2012) of the studio to represent multiple races in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to get acceptance from a global audience.
Abad-Santos, A. (2016). Captain America: Civil War will make you remember why we love superheroes. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2016/5/5/11574504/captain-america-civil-war-movie-review
Austin, L., Liu, B. F., & Jin, Y. (2014). Examining signs of recovery: How senior crisis communicators define organizational crisis recovery. Public Relations Review, 40, 844 – 846. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.06.003
Boseman, C. [@chadwickboseman]. (2020, August 29). [Tweet; attached image]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/chadwickboseman/status/1299530165463199747
Cullors, P. (2018). Black Lives Matter Cofounder: 'Black Panther' Reflects a Cultural Shift in Hollywood—and in America. Glamour. https://www.glamour.com/story/black-lives-matter-cofounder-black-panther-reflects-a-cultural-shift
Disney [@Disney]. (2020, December 11). Black Panther 2, opening July 8, 2022, is being written & directed by Ryan Coogler. Honoring Chadwick Boseman’s legacy & portrayal of T’Challa, @MarvelStudios will not recast the character [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Disney/status/1337200405659480065
Fear, D. (2020). Chadwick Boseman: Long Live the King. RollingStone. https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/chadwick-boseman-tribute-1052003/
Garner, G. (2020). Chadwick Boseman fans urge Marvel not to recast Black Panther role following actor's tragic death amid fight with colon cancer. MailOnline. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-8677715/Chadwick-Boseman-fans-urge-Marvel-not-recast-Black-Panther-role-following-actors-tragic-death.html
Ho, B., Pang, A, Auyong, G., & Lau, L. T. (2014). Enduring image: Capturing defining moments in crises. Public Relations Review, 40, 519-525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.03.008
Karim, A. (2018). The Marvel Cinematic Universe is 61% White, But Does That Matter?. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/anharkarim/2018/10/10/the-marvel-cinematic-universe-is-61-white-but-does-that-matter/?sh=20a66ea04482
Kit, B. (2017). 'Black Panther' Teaser Trailer Racks Up 89M Views in First 24 Hours (Exclusive). The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/black-panther-teaser-trailer-racks-up-89m-views-first-24-hours-1012811
Pang, A. (2012). Towards a crisis pre-emptive image management model. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 17(3), 358-378. https://doi.org/10.1108/13563281211253584
Pang, A., Jin, Y., Kim, S., & Cameron, G. (2020). 6. Contingency theory: Evolution from a public relations theory to a theory of strategic conflict management. In F. Frandsen & W. Johansen (Ed.), Crisis Communication (pp. 141-164). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110554236-006
Pang, A., Kim, H. J., & Chaidaroon, S. (2013). Dealing with emotions of stakeholders during crises: Why should leaders care? In A. J. DuBrin (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Crisis Leadership in Organizations (pp. 127-148). Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781781006405.00015
The Walt Disney Company. (2019). ‘Black Panther’ Wins Three Academy Awards®. https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/black-panther-wins-three-academy-awards/
Wallace, C. (2018). Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/magazine/why-black-panther-is-a-defining-moment-for-black-america.html
Smith, J. (n.d.). The Revolutionary Power Of Black Panther. Time. Retrieved 1 May 2021 from https://time.com/black-panther/