20 years since I discovered my favourite superhero ever, T’challa the Black Panther and the land of Wakanda. In that time I have watched every animated iteration of the character from the 90’s Fantastic Four series to the most recent Avengers Assemble take on him. I’ve collected volumes of comic including his very first appearance in 1966 so it’s safe to say I’m a pretty solid fan. When we first got word of him appearing in Captain America: Civil War I was too happy for words and now we finally have his very own first solo outing and I’m about to tear this up!!!
First things first let’s address how well written this film was especially in regards to characters. T’challa was perfectly portrayed by Chadwick Boseman. He bought a regal vibe to the screen all while still managing to put across vulnerability to the task facing him as the new King of Wakanda. Just enough charm when needed but still able to exude menace in the right moment I take my hat off to you Mr Boseman. Letitia Wright as Shuri…what can I say, cheeky, intelligent, witty all in all a wonderful take on a character I actually don’t like in the comics all that much. Her chemistry with her on-screen brother was great and felt effortless and she definitely was a scene stealer.
Nakia and Okoye played by Lupita Nyongo and Danai Gurira respectably were incredible. Before I go any further I have to express how much joy I felt seeing two beautiful dark-skinned women in such great and powerful roles, I can only imagine how good little girls across the world felt to see themselves represented in such stellar fashion. I loved the dichotomy between these two, the innovator and the traditionalist. The home guard and the wanderer, soldier and spy. I have to remark how surprised I was at how funny Danai could be from what little I’d known of her from her Walking Dead role and Lupita definitely showed a great arc of being the runaway to one who came to appreciate the balance in coming and going from her home, plus a great love interest for Chadwick’s T’challa.
Killmonger…well damn…First off we know there has been much talk about Marvel having a bit of an issue with villains on screen, especially in the movies and I had definitely gone to bat for MBJ when I heard his casting constantly stating no wrong can come from him and Coogler together and Bast above was I right. I will go into greater detail on how much I was drawn to this character later on but truly matched the claim I’d heard of him being the best villain since Loki, I’d arguably say better even…but I acknowledge certain biases there. It was great to finally see Andy Serkis as himself too and he played a hilarious version of Klaw (Klaue) always poking fun and roasting his pursuers.
Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya played their roles with the conviction that is definitely worthy of praise. I really wanted to see more done with Ramonda especially highlighting the relationship between her and her children in the absence of T’chaka but alas, I think she was a perfect casting nevertheless and I look forward to seeing more. Daniel as W’kabi…a great character, he played his role as best friend to minor antagonist well and I was very invested in this arc, so much so I was incredibly annoyed at his turning on T’challa. Finally, Forrest Whitaker and Martin Freeman…again an interesting take on Zuri here taking more of an advisor role as opposed to his mentor and bodyguard role from the comics and the part was played well enough that I felt it when he was killed. Everett Ross was a wonderful touch too, again nicely changed from bumbling reader mouthpiece in the comics to a capable, calm and collected CIA agent who despite my expectations (based upon his comic counterpart) served as a strong and integral character at times.
Now onto the meaty stuff…
As I said earlier, I’m an avid reader of Black Panther all the way from Jungle Action to Christopher Priest to the current Ta-Nahesi Coates run so I was incredibly happy to witness several comic panel easter eggs, for example, Black Panther’s skyscraper ascension…yes I’ve seen no one claim that one yet so it’s mine, T’chaka’s actual Black Panther suit clearly inspired by the gold highlighted Priest costume, the waterfall incident…and the oft-mentioned rhino wrecking beautiful examples of attention to detail.
Something else I was very appreciative of was the constant mention of the Dogs of War…one of which was the re-hash of T’chaka’s brother originally known as S’yan in the comics and now N’jobu in the film. So you understand the significance of this, the war dogs are the Hatut Zeraze, Wakanda’s secret police and are actually led by T’challa’s adopted older brother (who’s also white…yep) Hunter in the comics who is known as…White Wolf. Get that last post-credit scene now?
The ancestral plain which hinted at T’challa’s king of the dead abilities from the comics where he’s able to commune with all of his ancestors was a great touch too, though I confess I was slightly upset at not seeing the Panther God we can’t have it all…perhaps this leaves the door open for T’challa getting a power-up by communing directly with her in a sequel…
Oh and Oakland as the start and end? I see you Coogler…
The Revolution Will Be Not Be Televised…
We heard a lot about how important this film would be cultural to the African diaspora due to it being the first time we had a black superhero film directed by a black man, with a 90% black cast etc. Many clearly missed the point of such statements and were asking questions such as “what about Blade, hey you had Spawn?” So…let’s get this clear.
Noone is forgetting about Blade and Spawn. Spawn was the first time we had a black superhero movie period. Michael Jai White should never be forgotten as the first Black man to play a black superhero in a movie and he did it damn well if you ask me. Blade opened the door for R-rated CBM’s, bought seriousness back to a genre that had become a bit goofy and even pioneered an approach to camera work and editing in regards to action that set up what was done in the Matrix. However… both were black characters surrounded by white people in the film. Nothing wrong with that either, they were made by white directors again nothing wrong with that either and neither were films for children honestly. They do not occupy the lane Black Panther does, they opened doors for this and Wesley Snipes was pushing for a BP film in the 90’s but what we have here is a film that children can watch. A film that is rightful “overwhelmingly black”. Black Panther predates both characters in the comics anyway so drop that talk anyway.
There are a couple themes explored in this film that are very nuanced and quite frankly will not be noticed or appreciated at the same level unless black. Speaking very frankly here, so don’t get weird with me. This film represents something black people the world over dream of, an un-colonised Africa. A portrayal of us and our culture that does not portray us as slaves, gangsters, drug addicts, drug dealers etc. We have not had this before. This is a prime example of the artistic concept and movement, Afrofuturism. This is why as a people there was so much excitement.
One of the deeper themes explored in this film, however, was the still lasting effects of colonialism from the treatment of black people outside of Wakanda in America, something which spurred Killmonger to action and before him, his father, the perception of Africa, “cool textiles, goats…”and finally the disconnect between the continent and the diaspora. This is something I’m going to go into a bit deeper…it’s but one facet of the conflict between T’challa and Killmonger. The gap and misunderstanding often felt between African Americans and Caribbeans and Africans, even the hostility that exists…this acceptance and non-acceptance between the two despite both knowing we’re the same, simply different branches of the same tree.
This was hinted at so well between the protagonist and antagonist underneath the primary points of why the Wakandan’s left the taken Africans to their fate during the slave trade and after when they were more than capable of liberating their brethren, the Wakandan’s approach of knowing but choosing to remain hidden to protect the Vibranium out of fear that if they exposed themselves they might arm the world with weapons too powerful for them to handle. This is something consistently echoed in the comics when those from the Western world constantly beseech Wakandans for vibranium and their advanced technology to be told, “Until the spiritual advancement of the West catches up to the technological prowess it would be irresponsible to share our scientific discoveries with you”. An observation of the West’s extraordinary gift for war, theft, genocide etc is exactly why the Wakandans maintained their isolationist foreign policy only repelling invaders and never invading others. Which brings me to my next point…
Predictably I have seen many pseudo-racist posts comparing T’challa to Trump…closed borders etc claiming that if this mentality was displayed in the film by a white nation it would have never made it past script. Let us remember Wakanda is fictional firstly…so calm down. Next, there is a historical context that would justify a nation of Africans, native Americans, aborigines etc to shut borders against Europeans and their descendants I mean look at what’s happened where European imperialism set its foot…need I say more. This was highlighted in the film. T’challa’s fear of what could happen if Vibranium reached the wider world especially given the events of Sokovia and the deception to the rest of the world that Wakanda had lost all their vibranium to Klaue.
Killmonger’s mentality makes total sense too. He was abandoned by his people, left in a land that enslaved, raped, murdered and demonised those like him. He grew in this land saw all the atrocities it heaped upon him and his people all while knowing there was a utopia that was untouched by the white man for him and his. A utopia that unlike all those that had been attempted in America, Haiti etc had survived completely intact for time immemorial. The only true link black people anywhere had to some semblance of our culture in its entirety and glory. Yet this utopia remained closed to him, ignored him, abandoned him. He echoed a sentiment many of us feel, a rage, an inadequacy, a pain we all hold in us. The indignity of not even being able to pass on our own names to our children, an inability to truly know where we came from, the injustice of being told we’re equal despite all evidence to the contrary. The simple truth of not knowing how to fight back, we can’t fight, it confirms the stereotype, it means you deserve whatever happens next.
You can’t be peaceful and respectful though, they shot MLK in the face despite him being the very epitome of “non-threatening”. This is why he’s such a great character, he is one face of the revolution. He is the warrior, a revolution needs those like him but also needs more. It needs caretakers, like T’challa, it needs teachers too though, healers, preachers. Killmonger simply fell too far down the path of the warrior. He is truly “by any means necessary”, the living embodiment of Jay-Z’s line from “Dead Presidents II”, “I’ll tell you half the story, the rest you fill it in, long as the villain win.” It is this dichotomy between the warrior and the guardian that makes such a compelling arc between him and T’challa and nothing shows this more than his final words a moment as a descendant of slaves myself that struck me in a way I can’t begin to describe, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships cause they knew death was better than bondage”.
Corrections for some of Y’all…
Now I have to come for some of you. I’m not sorry. Firstly my misinformed brothers and sisters. I have heard disgruntled murmurs from some of you. One of which was Storm not being in this film due to her being his wife in the comic…shut up. Seriously. First, off…the rights for Storm are not yet with Marvel, they’re currently in transfer from Fox and that deal was not on the table when Black Panther was being written, second, Nakia predates Storm as someone who loved T’challa in the comics anyway so yep, come at me. Next to those fool enough to dare disrespect the cameo of the great Stan Lee. Daring to say “why this white man in this?” That white man gave us our greatest superhero and then had the grace to step aside and let black writers come in and flesh him out into the masterpiece he is today, he and Jack Kirby had the stones to create a character and nation like this in 1966, do you understand how incredible and brave that is?
Next to those complaining about this movie not being diverse…why should it be diverse? This is character and story unlike any other. It demands to be rooted in our world, our world which is never shown anywhere. Our world where little black boys and girls can now go to a movie and see a superhero that looks like them, the Dora Milaje standing as shining examples of black women. It is truly saddening that in a world of to be blunt whiteness we cannot have this one thing, not even just for us but for our children. Black people don’t get to exist in fantasy (LOTR), we barely seem present in sci-fi (star wars, star trek) but as soon as we get a foothold there are those who would slice our toes from us in spite. You have heroes, you have stories, you have everything and you have taken enough from us, you do not get to take this from us, you don’t get to take this from the 6-year-old me who loved Batman, Wolverine but didn’t get why there were no heroes like me. Who drew black people whenever I got the chance because I couldn’t see myself otherwise, this is ours, deal with it.
On a lighter note, I have a few things I want to see in the future, Mr Coogler if you’re reading this these are free though I’m open to a post as a producer, assistant writer you know what I mean…
- Magic, Wakanda is known in the comics for blending science and magic, hence T’challa’s field of science he creates, shadow physics, this opens up the door for villains like Reverend Achebe, heroes like Brother Voodoo etc.
- Tactical prowess, I like many fans recognise T’challa’s intelligence essentially being given to Shuri but I really want to see his genius in strategy explored, now this may come to the surface in Infinity War but this is a guy who out-thought Iron Man when Tony was given prep time and plays Chess with Reed Richards…let’s see that.
- Tech, what we’ve seen of the suit so far is fantastic but it’s far from what we’ve seen in print, I want to see the energy daggers, the hard light shield, the cloaking tech. Wakanda has been established as far ahead of the world so let’s see that pushed even further.
- Bast, I said it before I’ll say it again, I want to see the Panther God, that is all.
- Killmonger’s return, while I understand the point of the challenge being death or yield I like many really wish Killmonger hadn’t had to die. He’s been revived in the comics so why not the same in the film? He’d be an interesting uneasy ally to T’challa perhaps.
This film means so much to me. I don’t think I can really sum up what finally seeing this did for me. It has room for improvement, it’s not totally flawless. An argument can be made for the pace being initially a bit slow, the plot is slightly predictable but the camera work was beautiful. The aesthetic was out this world, the work put into providing authenticity is clearly on show and fully appreciated. This was a film blatantly made by a true lifelong fan of the character and the investment by the cast is clear.
The fight scenes were great, fluid and came with a style, not like anything is seen before and I have to take a moment to give props to Maresse Crump for this, I’ve been a fan for years and I was so happy to hear he was involved, those who don’t know him he trained Chadwick for this role, youtube him, he is a real-life Wakandan, I’d love to see him as some kind of small role in a sequel.
Finally…the box office…$361 million globally. Noone can ever say a black film doesn’t make bank. I’m so happy to have this figure, I purposely waited to write this article until I knew the box office for this reason. This is the power of the black economy. Yes, I know black people were not the only people to see this film but let me speak directly to us for a second. This in large part was us, supporting, promoting, turning up in all our glory that made that number. This is proof of our financial power, we need to wield this more often. It’s always easy for us to complain we’re not represented but we can represent ourselves, there are so many independent black writers, artists, designers lets do this for each other.
We had the whole H&M issue and that’s not new news. We know those brands aren’t concerned with us, let’s support those who are across the board. Economic power makes noise, it makes representation on our terms, so I hope those of you whos introduction to Wakanda was through this film go and buy the comics, read the runs by Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Jungle Action. Do the same for Luke Cage, Falcon, all our heroes and heroines. Buy the soundtrack (Kendrick you killed it) Put the views into Black Lightening, show that the demand is there for our people on screen, in print.
Finally… should you ever read this… Mr Coogler, Mr Boseman, any of the cast, thank you. I waited 20 years to see this happen and you made my dream come true, you made a 6-year-old Jamaican kid’s happy beyond words.
Rest In Peace all the fallen Panthers.