Black Panther is a film that is destined to shake the film industry for both those in it and outside of it. Being the first Marvel superhero film to star not just a black superhero, but a predominantly black cast, this film holds dizzying amounts of cultural significance. That it officially broke and now holds the record in the Marvel stable for the most pre-sold tickets ever illustrates how much this all-black affair resonates.
Of course, you cannot ignore the controversies surrounding it as many protest the film – what some in the media are putting down to jealous DC fans but given this only happened in a Marvel film boasting a predominantly black cast, I’d say that’s an inaccurate and dishonest portrayal of it. Much like those protesting Inxeba, you have to look a little deeper to see the underlying reasons for their discomfort and anger.
Black Panther is a typical Marvel superhero film in many ways with amazing fight choreography and great world building, but to only look at those aspects would be to do the film a massive injustice. This is a film that does not shy away from its blackness and the end result is an experience that will lift you up to soaring heights with joy and drop you down just as quickly as it brutally unpacks the narratives that surround what it means to be black in this day and age.
Straight after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to claim the throne and take over as king of the hidden African nation of Wakanda. On the way, T’Challa and the General of his Dora Milaje bodyguards/army Okoye (Danai Gurira) detour to pick up Nakai (Lupita Nyong’o), another Dora Milaje spy and T’Challa’s former love interest.
Wakanda, having sole control over the world’s vibranium deposits, is the most advanced civilisation on earth. The country is shown as a technological marvel, with hovercars and towering buildings that loom above the beautiful African landscape. There’s an excellent balance though, where futuristic steel and vibrant, graffiti-like colours and designs mesh together. But Wakanda remains hidden from the world, out of concern over what the hot-headed, warring countries would do with their weapons.
Thrust into the limelight of taking over leading his people, T’Challa tries to follow in his father T’Chaka’s (John Kani) footsteps. As the film goes on, and T’Challa is trying to balance being a leader while being confronted with differing ideologies, so Boseman’s performance becomes more and more heartfelt. Every inch of his internal struggle can be seen in the way he processes what is happening to his beloved country.
There to upset T’Challa’s balance is Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), aided and abetted by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis – with the best on-screen South African accent since Sharlto Copley), who has his own ideas about how Wakanda should be run. Embodying the fire and bitterness of every black man that has been mistreated at the hands of whites, Killmonger wants to send Wakanda’s weapons out into the world, to take back what has been stolen from his race for centuries.
A powerful narrative that says more about the present day world than the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
Whilst this film is in many ways, a coming of age story, it also serves as an unpacking of blackness in modern society. It tackles a wide array of issues and topics that leave you reeling at the end of the film. It’s a lot to digest and will definitely be a film you’ll need to watch more than once but you’ll enjoy every viewing as its insightful approach is enthralling.
It explores the role of black women in black struggles. This has been a topic that has been relevant in many fights for equality amongst black people, not just in the past but also in present battles such as Fees Must Fall. It is not new for black men to leave black women behind or even to harm them in their sprint for victory – despite black women coming to their aid time and time again. The prolific cast of strong black women and their roles in this film serve to tell that story but also showcase their strength and provide them an identity that is not in relation to men but stands alone.
It tackles the contentious issue of successful black people leaving their brothers and sisters behind as wealth and security make them forget or be less willing to help, or even both. “Remember where you came from” is a phrase used by many but it is especially profound for black people as parents sacrificed everything to provide them with a better start in life. It makes it easy to forget the rest of friends and family that are left behind in the wake of newfound success.
It also creates a tendency to deny parts of or all of your heritage because it doesn’t fit the way you’ve viewed yourself growing up or the people that you’ve surrounded yourself with. For some black people, heritage has always been a difficult thing to balance, particularly in a world that oft times is so anti-black, it’s hard to shake yourself of the bias and misconceptions. None of this is helped by mainstream media’s ignorant portrayal of black heritage, a point that is brought up towards the end of the film.
With its enthusiasm to embrace its blackness, also comes Black Panther’s unwavering challenge on whiteness. Multiple characters openly voice their negative stance towards white characters, from the dislike of Americans to calling white characters “colonisers”.
Whilst Katie Hopkins saunters around South Africa attempting to profit off a made-up narrative of white genocide and national racial tension, Black Panther could not have come sooner as a movie that reminds its audience of the pain black people suffered for centuries – and continue to suffer.
Systemic discrimination that oppresses black people in America, the long-lasting effects of slavery, the decimation of Africa from colonisation – all of these topics are covered in the film in one way or another. In tackling these issues, Black Panther also creates arguably one of the best villains in the current MCU. Killmonger is a person you could sympathise with and relate to, something Marvel has often faltered on in the past. This is a villain that epitomises black rage, which leads me to my next point.
Arguably one of the most complex and dangerous issues that Black Panther explores is the burning fire that rages within blackness. The challenge of whiteness is only the tip of what is explored in this film as it also portrays the real anger that many black people harbour towards society and those in power. It illustrates the effects of a people that have been beaten, exploited, killed, raped and more, all because of the colour of their skin. This film pulls no punches in delving into what stokes this anger and what the future could look like if it continues.
A paradigm shifts for superhero films in the MCU without losing its essence
Whilst the DC v Marvel debate has always been as meaningful a debate as PlayStation v Xbox, (in case you didn’t notice, sarcasm is dripping all over that statement) it cannot be argued that DC was always seen as the superhero world that was more willing to have social commentary and tackle serious issues.
Whilst one film in the Marvel stable (well, with Captain America: Civil War’s statement on governments’ “might is right” policies) cannot possibly change that balance yet, Black Panther is a step in the right direction in dealing with real-world issues and providing insightful opinion. Whilst its social commentary and the concepts it unpacks is what puts this movie on the trajectory to greatness, it still retains all the elements that make it a Marvel film and that fans will love.
There are great moments of humour interspersed throughout without taking away from a great storytelling film – a trait that follows on from Thor: Raganarok. The action scenes and fight choreography in the film are incredible, entertaining and enthralling. The score, provided by more than competent Ludwig Göransson, along with the original music produced by and featuring Top Dawg Entertainment (a music label that houses musical heavyweights such as Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and SZA) were phenomenal and served to enhance various scenes in the film.
As with any film, there are shortcomings
No film is perfect and Black Panther is no exception to the rule. The biggest gripe with the film are some horribly done African accents. Some characters are audibly jarring due to how badly they portray an African accent – Forest Whitaker being a chief contributor.
The CGI in certain parts of the film are noticeable and serve to detract from otherwise immersive and beautiful scenes. Additionally, certain actions of characters are sometimes nonsensical and seem to occur only to further the plot. Whilst these instances are rare, at times the writing does serve to let the overall film down.
A movie that will become a classic in time
Black Panther does so much right though, it’s difficult to find any faults that would undermine it all. But more than that, the cultural significance this film holds will make it one for the ages. It wasn’t even 30 minutes into the film that I felt my eyes water as I witnessed a film with a black cast unpack everything that I’ve ever faced in my life – it’s an incredibly powerful experience that is hard to truly put into words.
Last Updated: February 7, 2018