Black Panther and the Black LEGO Community

Best of BrickNerd – Article originally published November 11, 2022.

Today we are honored to feature a guest article by educator and LEGO Masters contestant Corey Samuels who shares his experience building the LEGO Black Panther bust with his community.

Wakanda Forever

2018 was a special year for the Black community. That was the year that Marvel Studios released Black Panther into theaters. I remember exactly where I was that weekend, escaping to the movies and dressing up in African-representative garments to watch a movie alongside my close friends. I was moved to tears watching the film. Finally, our community had a superhero. We finally had representation of our struggles on-screen with LEGO sets in tow.

Last year, LEGO introduced set 76215 Black Panther, a massive 3,000-piece bust of King T’Challa complete with the iconic necklace and hands posed in tribute to the Wakanda Forever salute. When the set was announced, I immediately felt a rush of emotions, I was overjoyed and incredibly happy with the amazing set but at the same time, a little saddened by the price tag. Kids in the Black community were going to love this set, but could they ever afford it?

For some context about the movie, Black Panther gave our community (and especially children) encouragement via a hero played by the late actor Chadwick Boseman. Why did the film have such an impact? One might say it was just another comic book movie… just a fantasy like any other. But it wasn’t like any other. This one was different. For a long time before, there was a pretty obvious blueprint to being a fictional superhero in the movies: tall, nice jawline, blue eyes, nice hair and Caucasian. As a young Black man, my “heroes” were sports, music and entertainment figures. I never had a superhero (without being a comical joke) who looked like me growing up, let alone in LEGO form.

IMage via Chadwick Boseman’s Twitter

Chadwick Boseman came off as a regular Black man who was playing the role of King. He sparked the imagination of millions of Black people that said, “FINALLY, we have representation.” I see this new LEGO set as a commemoration of Chadwick. He lived an honorable life off the movie set. He spoke at poverty-stricken schools and communities, encouraging kids that they could be anything they wanted. He tragically passed away from cancer in 2020, but even during his treatment, he still visited other cancer patients trying to give them hope. Hopefully you can see why he was so important to our community and why having a LEGO bust of Black Panther is a big deal, especially as it launches right when the sequel Wakanda Forever is in theaters.

IMage via Chadwick Boseman’s Twitter

Reception and Representation

As excited as I was for the announcement of the LEGO Black Panther bust, I was even more excited for the younger builders and families who might be able to purchase and build this set. Black representation matters, and kids like seeing themselves in the toys they play with. But LEGO minifigures that represent Black characters are hard to come by because they are only included in sets based on movies that usually are more expensive—not to mention they always seem to have angrier printed faces. (Hopefully the new 21337 Table Football set with its diverse cast of soccer players will help alleviate some of these issues, though that set is expensive too.)

Unfortunately, the price point for the LEGO Black Panther bust at $350 makes it out of reach for most families (Black or otherwise) to invest in. While a life-sized bust looks incredible and conveys so much power, a slightly smaller iteration would have had a bigger impact because more people could have enjoyed it. Don’t misunderstand, I’m glad this set exists but I can’t help but think of what its launch could have been.

Speaking of the set launch, I sadly have to talk about another missed opportunity on LEGO’s part. When a new set launches, LEGO typically sends early review copies out to select creators who are part of their ambassador network. Separately, LEGO sometimes hosts a fun event or launch activity with the people a new set is targeted at. Unfortunately, I don’t think LEGO quite understood the impact a set like this would have on a community. Setting aside the price tag and the limitations a lot of Black families would have in purchasing this set, this set arrived on the eve of the latest installment of the Black Panther story in theaters. Wakanda Forever is more than just another comic book movie—it’s a symbolic (and deeply saddening) send-off to an amazing human being in Chadwick.

It was hard to see many of the reviewers talk about the build process but ignore the cultural impact of the set. They talked about price and size and collectibility, but because none of them were from the Black community that I know of, the message that “anyone can be a superhero no matter their skin color” was lost. (Hopefully my friend and fellow LEGO Master Mel Brown recently being officially recognized in LEGO’s ambassador network will help raise the visibility of Black creators.) There also wasn’t a community launch event sponsored by LEGO for the Black Panther bust that I was aware of.

A Community Build

After passionately speaking about some of these issues during an Instagram Live, BrickNerd’s chief editor Dave Schefcik reached out, sharing his sentiments and similar longing for what could have been… along with an idea for something amazing. With the help of some amazing BrickNerd Patrons, they would provide the set so I could organize a community build and showcase what it means to the Black community.

I was thrilled with the opportunity to introduce this Black Panther set to my local community. It was a monumental event because most of these kids have never built a LEGO set this big (or as complicated) before. But this community build goes beyond just putting a LEGO set together—it was an opportunity to gather together and celebrate a grand moment where we were able to build something that represented the black community.

The event took place on November 5th in Plainfield, New Jersey. Ten families were represented, with each person being assigned a bag number to help build. Everyone was so excited, and all the builders were under the age of 14. Building this set with my community was an emotional connection I got to experience with them and them with me.

I had the privilege to speak to a few of the builders. Their photos and quotes are included here with permission from them and their parents or guardians.

LM Corey: How do you feel about this Black Panther Set?

Tyler, age 12: “I feel its pretty cool to have a set like this that represents us. I love Black Panther because he was a king and it showed how we can be all be superheroes.”

LM Corey: This is your first LEGO community build, how was it?

Meris, age 12: “It was different. I’ve never done this before. I am so thankful for this opportunity to be able to build something special to our community.”

LM Corey: Nate, you have done a community build before with LEGO pieces. How significant is this community build with this specific set?

Natanael, age 13: “I think this is one of the coolest sets LEGO has ever done. It represents one of the superheroes who is Black and the complexity of this set is really challenging for a LEGO builder like me. I really like this set.”

Making a Moment

This Black Panther set and the building event brought a community together. It helped elevate an entire community and made something that is unobtainable for most of the families in this community more accessible to share in this experience. Every time they see the set, the kids who helped will have pride that they built that and remember why representation is important.

LEGO is a brand that helps to bring families together. This experience was more than just building a regular set—this was a moment in the lives of so many people of color. The more we talk and listen to each other, to more connected we will all become. I want to thank BrickNerd and their Patrons for donating this amazing set and making this astonishing experience a reality for many of the young builders present. It was a moment to remember.

What set could your community build together? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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