Whew! It has taken me much longer to get this written up than I intended, but that has also allowed the beauty of the Black Panther film to sink in for me since I first watched it during opening weekend. WARNING: There are spoilers ahead in my analysis of Black Panther. If you do not wish to read spoilers of this film, I suggest moving to another post or webpage altogether.
With THAT being said, let’s jump into this. I have summed up my favorite things about this movie in four categories:
Flipped Script Imagery
This is by far the reason I am most thrilled with this movie. Black characters are represented in this film as royalty, as legendary warriors, as geniuses (more on that later), and as people who take pride in their culture. This is almost a direct negation of how blacks have largely been portrayed on big screens in the past. I do not wish to state there are no positive black characters (past or present) that have graced the movie screen, but their numbers pale in comparison to their white counterparts. Getting to see black characters portrayed this way is an affirming feeling to a person with brown or black skin, and it’s even more of a plus that these were original characters, not simply characters that have been historically white but alternatively cast as black. And, because I slightly embrace the petty diva that lives inside of me, I must say that it was comical to see the roles of power reversed on-screen as well. When Shuri scoffs at the pale-skinned Everett Ross (whom she has just saved) calling him a “colonizer” and telling him to calm down, I could not help but laugh. No, I do not advocate for all blacks to start speaking down to whites, but I did get a kick out of witnessing this for once, because it is more often the other way around.
I also enjoyed watching the relentless sisterhood the women of Wakanda all shared. Danai Gurira’s character called to my inner warrior, and Shuri to my inner genius. The fearlessness of the female guards was a striking nod to what real black womanhood is about. This is the type of feminism I can get behind.
Okay, whenever asked to think about tech + superhero films, the first names that come to mind usually include Batman and Iron Man, and rightfully so. Most other superheroes (DC and Marvel) originate from times that were notoriously prior to the technological age, and other than Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, I do not know of any characters that hold a distinct advantage in the superhero arena based on a resource that only they possess. Even their development of tech in their respective films seems to be governed primarily by male characters. Black Panther changes this entirely. Vibranium is native to The Kingdom of Wakanda only, and Wakandans have mastered its uses for healing, creation of armor for defense, the holographic piloting of vehicles, and so much more. And the best part? The tech genius of this film is T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri.
Casting – A Legacy of Black Actors
This part speaks to the depth of the casting shown in this film. It is not difficult to locate young black actors (50 years or younger) – names like Damon Wayans Jr., Kerry Washington, and Taraji P. Henson come to mind very easily. But when it comes to who should play their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, even great grands? Hardly anybody knows who those actors are, and not for lack of talent, but rather due to their lack of exposure. Thespians and gypsies might know of them here in the US, but the majority of the world does not. Black Panther changes this as well – we see a rich casting of actors who appear to be ages 65+, and that is powerful. In the same way Meryl Streep represents Hollywood veterans, it was so comforting to me to see veterans of the stage and screen with dark skin in this movie. And among them were other seasoned actors that perhaps part of the world has forgotten about – I had no idea Forest Whitaker was even in this film until I saw him on screen, at which point I became overjoyed because his (and many others’) inclusion spoke to the overall due diligence Marvel and Ryan Coogler seemed to take in creating a truly ensemble, yet racially accurate, cast. Even John Kani and his son Atawanda Kani represent adult and young versions of T’Chaka in this film. This was not a film that boasted inclusion but did not deliver – it included black excellence in acting from all over the globe and across generations.
I have seen some comments that state the message of this film was not needed, or that it was a painful reminder of the problems that plague black people. To that I say: So what? If that is our truth, why should we not stand in it? To me, Black Panther seems to offer a solution that triumphantly zooms past others I have seen before. It is a call of encouragement, integrity, and virtue. Yes, it presents a message of banding together, looking out for one another, and the brotherhood/sisterhood that seems to be vanishing among black people due to a separation from culture, and the implications of the diaspora. If you ask me, black people needed a message like this at a time like this; I know I certainly did as a brown-skinned woman. Other races needed a message like this, too, as a reminder that we are not simply products of displacement – our roots and culture are rich and powerful as well, though history books tell it otherwise. Black people have just as much to celebrate and be proud of as Jewish, Irish, or Chinese people.
So, there you have it. I loved the film for all the reasons naysayers claim I should not – because it represents blackness in a way that is hardly ever shown in Hollywood, it contains characters I can relate to because they look like me, and for once there is a movie that has a mostly black cast in it that tells a story not centered on gang activity, drugs, slavery and other oppression, or corruption. Five stars. Two thumbs up. Wakanda forever. 🙅🏾