‘Black Panther’ is More Than a Movie, It’s a Movement
Never has there been any Marvel superhero that has been as socio-politically, racially and culturally conscious as “Black Panther” which debuted on Feb. 16. The eighteenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Black Panther” deserves widespread recognition for its themes, delivering its promise of featuring an all-but-two black cast, its thrilling soundtrack à la Kendrick Lamar, and Ryan Coogler’s direction.
The film had been highly anticipated worldwide, particularly among people of color, as watching a black superhero in theaters is rare, hence further offering diversity in the superhero film industry. Black Panther was the first superhero with an African background to hit popular comics back in 1966 after all.
Across social media, people have posted and shared how avid filmgoers arrive in traditional African garb, some even showing up with African drums, and many doing triumphant poses with the film posters.
It all also translates into numbers as the film grossed over $202 million in the U.S. over its first three days (being the fifth highest of all time), and earned a massive $242.1 million in its four-day opening weekend, both records of which helped make it the most financially successful film opening for an African-American director.
Set after 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” where the Black Panther character debuted onscreen, this film shows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) going back to Wakanda, a thriving and technologically-advanced African nation that’s disguised as a Third World country. As his father died in the previous film, T’Challa eventually becomes king but he becomes challenged by malevolent forces like Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).
Wakanda secretly has an abundance of vibranium—an extraterrestrial material that offers superhuman powers and also helps power Wakanda’s technology. This is a haunting reference to how white colonists had won control over Africa’s resources and peoples during the Scramble for Africa in past centuries; though this time, vibranium has not been fully exploited by outsiders yet.
Boseman impeccably portrays T’Challa as a respectful leader who cares much for his family and Wakanda, though he sometimes falls back as he is more reserved than his more animated cast mates. This is a clever decision on the filmmakers’ part as Black Panther is not shown to be too aggressive or “in your face.” Like his moniker, he blends into the night, only striking if he has to.
Jordan does a great job at painting Killmonger as a complex yet intimidating character who, while he seems intent on revenge, feels like Wakanda should share its vibranium with the world, but for troubling reasons. He wants to literally empower people of African backgrounds to use it to overthrow their suppressors, as if for vengeance for the racism, exploitation and slavery they’ve long faced throughout human history.
This brings up an intriguing discussion of whether Killmonger’s objectives are justified because his point about African people deserving to have more power does make sense. Thus, this is one of the film’s stronger points as it shows that it is much more than a standard superhero movie and that there is a larger crisis at stake that transcends Wakanda’s borders and the movie screen.
The so-called “Women of Wakanda” also were stellar paragraphs in this 134-minute film, offering female empowerment.
Comic relief comes in the form of Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is the more excitable sister of T’Challa whose intelligence for a 16 year old feels unparalleled. She has immediate access to the nation’s advanced technology, shown to be more vibrant and illustrative than the West’s, which she designed.
Okoye (Danai Gurira) is at the forefront of the female-only special forces of Wakanda, called the Dora Milaje who also are T’Challa’s chief protectors. Gurira incorporated parts of the fighting style of Michonne, her character in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” She becomes a key figure in the film as she’s involved in many of the action sequences while she remains loyal to her duty even when Killmonger takes the throne, which causes a personal predicament over where her true loyalties lie.
Finally, Angela Bassett is always radiant as Ramonda, T’Challa and Shuri’s mother. Even when she is stripped of her role as Queen Mother of Wakanda midway through the film due to Killmonger becoming king, her maternal instincts and gentle-but-firm disposition makes her quite the unforgettable character.
The cast, as well as revealing that T’Challa plans to start an outreach center in California, act as excellent role models, something that many celebrities and viewers have regularly cited lately. A specific heartwarming scene is when T’Challa is approached by a curious young African-American boy at the film’s end, this image clearly speaking for itself for newer generations to come.
The action scenes were both thrilling and emotionally charged, as the core characters struggle to keep Wakanda united, and regain the stolen vibranium and throne. The main highlight was the fight scene at the South Korean underground casino where opulence plunged into chaos, as Black Panther, Shuri and a comically-wigged Okoye (who’s originally bald) fought Klaue and his men. It also leads out to the city streets as they engage in a high-tech car chase.
One sore spot was the special effects during the massive battle scene near the film’s end when Kilmonger’s followers clashed with Black Panther’s. The use of the green screen was sometimes unbearably obvious which slightly removed the passion from the battle sequence, and the stomping rhinoceroses just looked fake.
The film also intelligently touches on white colonialism, slavery and racism, reminding the audience that “Black Panther” had a heavy responsibility to deliver so that naysayers and racist viewers won’t hold it against people of color. This is similar to how 2017’s “Wonder Woman” was a touchstone moment for women worldwide and people hoped it would deliver too. Which it did.
Marvel films have begun focusing on almost-realistic political themes recently, particularly during “Captain America: Civil War” but “Black Panther” further enriches the MCU experience by showing audiences that in the world of superheroes, aliens and complex villain figures, African-Americans still rightfully deserve visibility.
This definitely is evident in real life as #WakandaForever has continued to trend across social media and cast members have appeared on numerous magazine covers to further showcase the African-American experience in Hollywood.
The film’s ending raises a thought-provoking question as to how Wakanda will continue to thrive as T’Challa exposes to the United Nations how truly powerful and resource-adorned Wakanda is.
While this widens the scope of the MCU, it has massive worldwide appeal and speaks to how we live in a troubling sociopolitical climate today.