Have you seen Black Panther? 235 million dollars in the United States alone means you probably have. There were all those articles beforehand about how important this film is to those in Africa and of African descent. However, to just simplify it as one of the first superhero films to have a male Black lead isn’t doing it justice. This is a film that fully embraces the culture around its characters within a story that’s relevant to just about every person on this planet. It’s the film that all future Marvel films will be compared with.
Right from the beginning, director Ryan Coogler makes it clear that this is an international story, not just African. It opens in Oakland, California. Oakland is a city known to most viewers as having lost their football team to Las Vegas, creating 2Pac and being consistently one of the most violent cities in America. In Oakland, a father tells his son about where they come from in Africa and how five warring tribes came together under a Black Panther as king. The seeming fairy tale is contrasted by the stark reality of guns and wooden crates for basketball hoops.
Current Marvel fans know the fairy tale is real. Chadwick Boseman first played T’Challa in the installment, Captain America: Civil War. His role there was little more than impressing the audience by being awesome. His own film allows for a more fleshed out character, full of uncertainty and mistakes. T’Challa is a new king of Wakanda, confirmed to the throne in a stunning cliff match that’s also the tip of a waterfall. It’s common for new superheroes to have their doubts but this time, his actions or inaction has consequences reaching every part of the globe. He has a whole people to worry about, similar to Thor with the Asgardians. In Thor: Ragnarok, the title character saw firsthand what Asgard’s previous brutal domination had wrought and what it was like to be a slave. Black Panther explores whether it’s just as cowardly to focus on your own people as other nations suffer and war. If one has the power to help others, should that not be used no matter the cost?
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is the first one to tell T’Challa that Wakanda needs to use its resources to help those around the planet especially their neighbors in Africa. Her first scene involves rescuing girls in Nigeria; referencing the Boko Haram who just yesterday attacked a girls’ school and focuses on kidnapping very young females in their reign of terror. T’Challa wants to do nothing that could cause trouble or outsiders for Wakanda. Apparently, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) doesn’t fall under this logic. He’s forced to admit Nakia was right all along as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) opens his eyes to how non-intervention can turn someone cruel. For those keeping track, both the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, less than three months apart, have shown how much faster it is to just trust the female’s opinion than to suffer the consequences and have to admit they were correct later. This isn’t a one woman show either. The majority of scenes have females in them and yes, it passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test and the Sexy Lamp Test. The women all have unique personalities and parts to play with T’Challa’s teenage sister, Shuri (Leticia Wright), being a break-out star and providing most of the humor. The jokes and action are perfectly paced among the deeper meanings.
One of the more worrying aspects of the film beforehand were Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Klaue (Andy Serkis). Would they be integrated into the story organically or would it be obvious that they were involved so the film wouldn’t be entirely black? After seeing the film, those fears were soothed away. The characters were exactly perfect and made important to the story. Ross further proved how the outside world was going to affect Wakanda anyway and T’Challa is too good to ignore problems he can fix. Klaue was the living embodiment of all colonizers. He finds a new country, steals its greatest treasure and when that’s depleted, employs that country’s own people against each other to get more of that resource. He’s the perfect secondary villain for this story and Killmonger is one of the best Marvel villains ever. Killmonger was quite young when he had his father taken away from him, not so different from Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) or Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). Little is known after that until age 17 when he’s admitted to the United States Naval Academy which requires either a recommendation from a member of Congress, the Vice President, President or a parent who received the Medal of Honor. After graduation, is a further degree from MIT, the same place Tony Stark graduated from, and joining the Navy Seals. The death of his father drove Killmonger to want deaths as revenge, but the United States taught him how to be good at it, hammering home the same colonizer point as Klaue. He’s an equal opportunity villain, equally equipped to shoot a man multiple times or shoot his girlfriend in the head rather than her become a bargaining chip. However, what makes Killmonger such a great villain is that in a lot of ways, he’s right. It’s not simply about revenge. It’s about wanting to make that fairy tale real for little boys and girls all over the world especially the ones with brown skin. Why shouldn’t they have hope? Even if it takes violence? Can there be a non-violent solution?
Black Panther is full of difficult topics from colonization to racism to sexism to how much a country should own up to their mistakes. How much should they risk or spend to rectify those mistakes? Can an enemy have good ideas? Can an enemy become a partner in a greater fight? It’s this grey beyond good and evil that elevates it beyond the standard Marvel fare. It’s the first time a Marvel Studios film can be described as “woke”. It’s not just ideologies either. Years were spent on turning Wakanda into a real place in Africa. Traditions, dress and speech was borrowed from all over the continent. To find out more, go here:
In addition to what the links mention, all the hair was natural.
“We did a totally Afrocentric, natural hair movie,” Ms. Friend said. “There was not a pressing comb or relaxer on set. That wasn’t happening. We’re in a moment when people are feeling empowered about being black. And that’s one thing you see when you watch ‘Black Panther.’ The hair helps communicate that,” Camille Friend, Hair Department Head, told the New York Times. Ludwig Göransson, the composer, spent a month in Africa collecting instruments, musicians and sounds. The dedication to keeping it authentic comes across in the film to make Wakanda feel just like a place that could be found on a map and will hopefully inspire interest in the Africa that does exist. Black Panther is also helped by Kendrick Lamar. It’s the first time a Marvel film had a currently popular recording artist write a whole album for it. At times, it had the nice familiarity of Guardians of the Galaxy but with lyrical songs that are quite a bit different than Quill’s mix tapes.
What more can be said? Black Panther was practically perfect in every way from the thoughtful script to the stellar cast to all the little details that added up to amazing.
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