It’s the movie the entire internet has been raving about since the official announcement way back in October 2014. One of the most talked about films I have seen to date, Black Panther certainly made a statement before even getting to the big screen. Black Panther is the first ‘superhero’ movie with a predominantly black cast, and is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to demonstrate such powerful representation for the black community. It is seen as a major step taken by Disney to lead Hollywood in a more positive direction. For these reasons and more Black Panther has been the talk of the town for nearly 4 years now on almost every social media platform and it is in no way surprising that the film was able to break as many records as it has by the end of opening weekend.
That said however, shouldn’t a movie be judged on the quality of its story and the performance of its actors? Wouldn’t the true mark of greatness for this feat of colored representation be if the film was able to stand on its own, beyond the fan fair and social outcries? Don’t the actors, director, studio and crew deserve the respect of being judged based on their abilities as opposed to the color of the cast’s skin?
As a young Afro-Caribbean man myself, I as much as anyone else am over the moon to see a film with such powerful representation stand in the spotlight, however, being judged based of the ethnicity of the cast is not something a movie deserves and most definitely not a movie as well put together as Black Panther, not when there is such a powerful message in the film itself.
The New King of Wakanda
Black Panther picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. After the loss of his father King T’Chaka (John Kani), young T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must step up and take his place as the new King of Wakanda, a prosperous, technologically advanced nation hidden away in Africa. As King, T’Challa strives to do right by his people but is also challenged to figure out what he and his people can do for the world. After centuries of remaining hidden under the guise of a third world farming country, T’Challa is forced to question if all the secrecy is really for the best, especially when a family secret is revealed forcing him to face off against Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to decide the future of Wakanda and possibly the world.
The Might of Wakanda
Black Panther may be the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it in no way falls into the trap of what is seen as a generic superhero movie. In the larger sense, yes, the events of the film culminate in T’Challa and company saving the world however that is not the goal nor was it the message we saw played out on screen. The film is one part coming of age and one part civil unrest. As T’Challa becomes king we see him try to come to terms with his duty to his nation. He tries to balance what tradition advocates and what his father would have wanted, however, due to his recent foray out in the world and upon the advisement of ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa begins to question if it isn’t possible for Wakanda to do more. The driving force of the film largely tilts itself towards “If you have the power to help, why don’t you?” A question which is largely emphasized by one of the best written movie villains Marvel has introduced in ages.
While initially introduced as an ex-militant criminal, Killmonger proved to be so much more. Though his base motivation is of a personal nature, his goals and ideals can’t exactly be faulted. Even as he seeks to take the throne from T’Challa one can’t actually fault Eric for his aggression as he speaks some hard truths. This is only bolstered by his smooth, tactical movements which paint his actions as those of an activist as opposed to those of a villain. Killmonger sees Wakanda as having failed their brothers and sisters out in the world. With all its advanced science and weaponry Wakanda is a powerhouse nation, yet they sit pretty and abandon the rest of the world, young black people everywhere, who are being discriminated against, prosecuted, who are suffering due to prejudice. This in itself creates the core of the film which is the advocacy of what Wakanda can do for the world.
While Killmonger advocated for an uprising, arming the people of the world with Wakanda’s might to turn the table on the oppressors, Nakia advocates for Wakanda to simply lend their aid. To reach out and help those in need. T’Challa is forced to open his eyes to both points of view while himself trying to reconcile the danger of exposing Wakanda to the world. As king, his priority is to protect his people, but as a man in power with power, where does one draw the line of who to help and how?
Long Live the King
What makes Black Panther such an amazing movie is the balance it found in displaying everything it had to offer. The film is predominantly black with only characters such as Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) deviating from this norm. Even with this ever present fact at no point does the movie feel forced. It’s not trying to make a statement out of itself or to scream “look at all the black representation”; something that has more than been covered by millions on the internet. Be it the beautifully crafted Wakandan nation or the amazing story telling, the film just feels natural. While there are some beautifully scripted, not so subtle reminders such as when Agent Ross was referred to as a colonist or the ever amusing scene where M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the Jabari tribe silence Ross from speaking by barking, these are seamlessly woven into the framework Black Panther, organically building the film to the peak of entertainment along with lines such as Serkis’ manically hilarious “I made it rain”.
The movie takes great pride in introducing a host of characters and actually making use of them from start to finish. With such a vast cast and limited time, it’s more than common for characters to be left to the side, seemingly forgotten amidst the unfolding tale. Black Panther however seemed to skirt this inevitability as tactfully as possible. While many would have gone into the movie excited to see more of Boseman’s T’Challa or be introduced to Jordan’s Killmonger, not a one can say that their hearts weren’t stolen by the supporting cast. Be your heart with Nakia and her dedication to doing the right thing, or Okoya (Danai Gurira) and her fierce authority as leader of the Dora Milaje, each actor was more than ready to display their own character’s significance and the movie readily offered multiple opportunities to do just that.
The film took particular joy in making some of these characters just that much more than they initially saw. After introducing M’Baku as a contender for the thrown who seemed to have nothing but contempt for T’Challa, no one expected him to be such a light hearted comedian or a savior under all those muscles. Much the same for my personal favorite Shuri (Letitia Wright) T’Challa’s sister and princess of Wakanda. While Shrui was introduced as a scientific genius, apparently responsible for most of Wakanda’s latest advancements in recent years, this didn’t stop the adorably witty girl from stepping up and jumping into the fray when her brother and country needed her. Most importantly however is Killmonger himself. The villain of the movie though it may not be so clear cut. While his actions are questionable were his intentions actual wrong? Violence give way for more violence but even so, he spoke for those who could not speak themselves. Killmonger represents so many out there who are fed up and just lack the means to do something about it, so while he may have been the bad guy on the surface, I’d be lying if I said he isn’t a hero to someone out there.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage” – Eric Killmonger
If I was scoring Black Panther I would give it a solid 8.5 out of 10. The movie was almost perfect no matter how you look at it with my only qualms being they didn’t make proper use of the amazing soundtrack during the film, and, as great as it was, the movie could have given us so much more. Rumor has it the original cut of the movie was over 4 hours long, I think I speak for a lot of people out there when I say we would not have minded at all!
Really though? There’s so much to love about this movie both as part of the MCU and as a standalone. The movie has so many philosophical messages which are oh too relevant to the world today and the writers and cast did a wonderful job of bringing it all across while still mixing in that familiar Marvel levity.
Black Panther more than deserves the records and the hype and hopefully all the awards it has coming its way in the not so distant future. The cast was wonderful, the special effects and staging were beautifully done and the story was brilliant and transitioned well enough to create a very smooth and entertaining flow. I honestly can’t wait to see it again and it’s my hope that everyone takes notice. Black Panther is a great achievement of bother quality film making and representation and it is something that movies in the future need to aspire to be.