It's taken another decade for Marvel to deliver a movie with an African-American lead. In that time, superhero shows steeped in black culture, like Marvel's "Luke Cage" and DC's recently debuted "Black Lightning" on the CW, have attracted high praise and a loyal fan following.
To be certain, many superhero movies with ensemble casts also feature prominent black characters, including the "X-Men," "Avengers" and "Suicide Squad" franchises.
Grauso said "Black Panther" is important because it further expands the portrayal of black characters in a superhero movie into a rich and expansive world of Afro-futurism that audiences have never experienced.
"It shows a completely different kind of possibility of what a superhero in that vein can be, as opposed to Luke Cage or Black Lightning, as important as those characters are," she said.
That said, Grauso believes the movie could be a bigger hit than many suspect, exactly because so much media attention has focused on representation — a conversation that perhaps overshadows Black Panther's broad appeal.
"Black Panther is one of the sleeper favorite characters in the Marvel pantheon," she said. "He's one of the smartest. He can compete with [Iron Man] Tony Stark and [Hulk] Bruce Banner and any of those guys for intelligence," she said.
T'Challa "kind of does it all. He's a king. He's a master strategist. He's a tactician. He's a gymnast. He's a diplomat. He rules over a country that has a really unique balance of military technology, science and magic," Grauso added.
Over the last 28 days, the social media conversation around "Black Panther" has been roughly split between men and women, according to social data and analytics firm ListenFirst. Millennials are dominating the conversation, while white audiences drummed up 46 percent of the chatter, followed by black audiences at 34 percent, Hispanics at 12 percent and East Asians at 6 percent.
There's something else important about "Black Panther," says comScore's Dergarabedian. It's simply a really great movie, with spectacular fight scenes and action sequences layered on top of international locations, a compelling narrative focused on family, and an impressive supporting female cast including Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o and Letitia Wright.
"Movies can represent all kinds of things and have all kinds of cultural significance applied to them, but if they open and people are like, 'Meh,' then the cultural significance is mitigated," he said.
"As a movie, it's brilliant."