Why these conspiracy theorists are trying to sabotage 'Black Panther'

Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther.” (Photo: Marvel)

February is upon us, which means one of the year’s most highly anticipated movies — Black Panther, which we dubbed our #1 must-see film of 2018 — is almost here. With two weeks to go before its debut, buzz is rapidly escalating for Marvel’s latest would-be blockbuster, as early critical reaction on social media (formal reviews are embargoed until Tuesday, Feb. 6) has been outright glowing. That sort of excitement, in turn, has already given birth to a backlash, courtesy of a group that’s taking an extreme position against Disney — and advocating a plan of attack aimed at sabotaging the superhero saga’s Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, a Facebook group known as “Down with Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” recently launched an event page dubbed “Give Black Panther a Rotten Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.” It proposed that users flood the aggregation site with negative audience reviews — thus bringing down its overall score — as a means of sticking it to Disney, which it claims uses its media clout to unfairly net its Marvel properties positive critical writeups — as well as to pressure journalists into unjustly slamming DC Comics-based movies. While the group’s Facebook page has since disappeared from the site — for reasons yet to be explained — it managed to initially draw nearly 4,000 members. And this isn’t the first time the outfit has seen fit to express its Disney enmity in this way, as it previously claimed to have waged a similar campaign against the studio’s December blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi, whose Rotten Tomatoes user score was far lower than its critics’ score.

Via an official statement, Rotten Tomatoes denounced this intended scheme:

“We at Rotten Tomatoes are proud to have become a platform for passionate fans to debate and discuss entertainment and we take that responsibility seriously. While we respect our fans’ diverse opinions, we do not condone hate speech. Our team of security, network and social experts continue to closely monitor our platforms and any users who engage in such activities will be blocked from our site and their comments removed as quickly as possible.”

The unproven accusation that Disney manipulates the media remains a conspiracy theory manufactured by zealous tribalistic fanboys who are upset that their beloved franchises (like Justice League) haven’t been adapted for the screen as successfully as those from rival companies. And when it comes to Black Panther — the first Marvel film to be directed by an African-American man (Ryan Coogler), and to feature a virtually all-African-American cast — it’s hard not to see the group’s scheme as being driven by more than simple brand loyalty (*cough* racism *cough*), especially in light of the similar anti-women vitriol directed by male fans at 2016’s female-led Ghostbusters. It’s close-minded intolerance masquerading as anti-corporate rebellion.

In an America now rife with social protest, such online troublemaking — cloaked in a faux-fight-the-power guise — is almost a foregone conclusion, and  bound to resonate with a handful of radicals. However, with Black Panther expected to net anywhere from $130 to $150 million at the domestic box office when it premieres on Feb. 16, it’s also hard to see this minuscule group’s efforts making much of an impact on the film’s sky-high financial prospects.

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