Minor spoilers ahead:
This isn’t so much a review as a reflection. It’s well documented how I feel about Black Panther. I pushed for Black Panthers inclusion in the Avengers years ago. In April 2013, I wrote “It’s Time For Black Panther On The Big Screen.” If you’re just tuning in, you can look back through my archives for my previous Panther posts. Here’s Cary Darling’s Houston Chronicle article I was featured in “Houston fans are pumped for ‘Black Panther’ superhero movie with virtually all-African-American cast”
Well, I saw it.
Black Panther was one of the best movie experiences of my life.
First, this film isn’t “Homework”. Typically, movies featuring a Black cast feel as if they need to instruct audiences about the ills of society past and present. Black creatives know we may never have the Media mic again, so we don’t waste any moments. In my humble opinion, you’re grown, and It’s unrealistic to burden a mainstream movie with responsibility to make you a better person. That cake is baked. The only hope for a better tomorrow lies within the children. Which is why the stories they see & hear about heroic people that look like them, and don’t, are vital. Blissfully, there are no sermons in Black Panther. White Colonizers never even knew the technocratic marvel of Wakanda existed, so Wakandan society flourished atop a mountain of the most precious metal on earth, unmolested.
But, to Director Ryan Coogler and MARVEL Studios credit, Black Panther doesn’t shy away one iota from speaking truth to power about the broader consequences of isolationism, classism or societal injustice. Thematically, the tone of the film is a tasty gumbo of an Aesop fable & James Bond political pot-boiler with a side of Game of Thrones court intrigue and a dash of hot sauce. The strongest nations throughout history learn the greatest threats are not from without but within, Wakanda is no different. No one can escape the consequences of the choices they’ve made, whomever you are, from a lowly orphan to a mighty King, to a nation of millions, as Malcom X said famously “Your chickens will always come home to roost..”
There has been some buzz by angry white fanboys with absurd notions regarding Black Panther. They’ve declared comic book characters or stories must somehow be “apolitical”. And that the polical agenda surrounding this film makes them “uncomfortable”. (Aww, pobrecito!)
However, Black folks continue to celebrate the creative, cultural and financial success of the only big-budget Comic Book Movie featuring a Black cast and crew undeterred.
The tone-deaf reaction of some can be expected, Wonder Woman debuted to similar trolling about sexism (against men) and uproars about Alamo Drafthouse Theaters Woman-Only Screeings. Racism, Sexism & Pop Culture Fandom aren’t mutually exclusive, in fact, any Female, Non-Gender specific person, Bleek, Cosplayer, Collector, or Actor of Color can relay incidences of racism, sexisim or homophobia they’ve encountered. This harassment both on-line, like John Boyega for the crime of being a black stormtrooper in “The Force Awakens” or at cons where “Cosplay is not Consent” has to be repeatedly drummed into grabby Comic Con attendees.
I’ve been trolled by white men I don’t know from Adam with the caucasity to tell me I had “No right to speak about Black Panther because I’m not a real comic book fan”. Now not liking or even hating Black Panther doesn’t make you a racist. Telling me I can’t love it does. And using the fig leaf of “political agendas have no place in Comic Book Movies” to hide your bigotry only exposes your own political agenda.
As hard as it may be for you to believe Jimothy, this movie isn’t about you…
White Supremacy is a hell of a drug.
In his Forbes article chronicling Black Panthers unprecedented success, Scott Mendelson (a white guy so you can trust him Jimothy) Titled “Box Office: ‘Black Panther’ Crushes Conventional Wisdom With Record $218M Debut” had this to say regarding Black Panther –
“This isn’t just a blow to conventional wisdom about minority-led blockbusters, it’s a blow to conventional wisdom concerning the MCU. One of their more outside-the-box offerings, one of their most director-driven films and one of their most overtly political pictures yet, one that plays more like a drama than an action spectacular, is now on pace to be one of their very biggest movies. Like Pixar, I hope the MCU is realizing that its (stereotypically) riskiest bets turn out to be their biggest wins. Playing it safe is no longer the safe choice.”
Let’s talk a little about “politics in comics” before we move forward. Because this will come up more often as Women, Blacks, Asians, Non-Binary folks and others underserved in the Pop Media landscape take the lead on both sides of the camera and all phases of production in Hollywood. Let’s look at an example of how political thought not only has always been a part of Comics, it grounds the greatest heroes and drives the best stories.
Captain America was created by cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, his first apperance was Captain America Comics #1 published in 1941 by Timely Comics, a predecessor of Marvel Comics. Captain America was designed as a patriotic supersoldier who fought the Axis powers of World War II and was Timely Comics’ most popular character during the wartime period. Steve Rogers, “the skinny kid from Brooklyn” that became America’s enduring champion and the “First Avenger” in Marvels MCU, was 4F but wanted desperately to serve his country like his only childhood friend Sgt. Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Steve endured bullying with courage and tenacity, he knew what it meant to be powerless, which is why Dr. Erskine, the lead scientist of the super soldier program, believed Rogers was the ideal candidate.
“Dr. Abraham Erskine: The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.
Steve Rogers: Thanks. I think.
Dr. Abraham Erskine: [he pours two drinks] Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
Rogers, now a super soldier, dressed in red white & blue named Captain America quit touring with the USO selling War Bonds, went to the front lines and punched Nazis in the face on a daily basis.
That’s a political statement.
It’s endemic to who he is. Rogers believes in, if not America as it is, the aspirational ideal of what America SHOULD be for all her people, he’s such a patriot, once he leaned the truth about what the American Government was doing in our name? He helped take down SHIELD, fought Iron Man, and became a fugitive from justice. Can you separate Captain America’s political views or core beliefs about freedom and justice from his character?
Of course not. Nor should you. That’s WHY we love Captain America. It’s what makes him a hero.
Amnestic fanboys must have forgotten political stances made in The Avengers and all three Captain America Movies. SHIELD/HYDRA, Steve Rogers RAFT breakout after Civil War, The Sakovia Accords: UN oversight of “Enhanced” individuals that split the Avengers. The political asylum granted by Wakanda. The entire X-Men comic run since Mutants were allegories of Blacks during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s. MUTANT REGISTRATION ACT, TRASK Sentinel Program, The Legacy Virus that decimated fictional mutants concurrently during Pres. Reagan’s silence on the spread of HIV in the 90’s that cost millions of real people their lives. Or, the second episode of Superfriends that spoke out against man-made climate change and promoted ocean conservation in the 1970’s.
I could go on.
Decades of the politics of the day driving comic book stories that no one cared about, that is, when blacks were sidekicks. This changed last Thursday.
Black Panther is a movie about the heir to the throne of a fictional African Nation who wears the hereditary mantle of both Monarch and Protector of his realm “The Black Panther”. Is it possible to ignore or separate his Blackness and his unique Afrocentric culture or world view from this character? Should every narrative he’s a part of ignore the plight of black people that do not enjoy the privlage of Wakandan citizenship?
Of course not.
One of the most powerful Black Panther comic book stories was The Jungle Action Series of the seventies featuring Black Panther vs. The Ku Klux Klan. How do you de-politicize a Black King taking on the The Klan? Why should we even want to? Like CAPS political stance and core beliefs, Black Panther’s etnicity & culture are central to his narrative and endemic to the character.
How can one politicized characters narrative (Captain America) be acceptable and the other (Black Panther) not? The truth lies in The Root article by Micheal Harriot titled “An Open Letter to White People Who Are Upset Because Black Panther is So Racist”
Because white people have repeatedly stood up for inclusion and diversity in casting, we would like to admit that this is our fault. Forgive us for being excited that there is finally a movie that caters to our sensibilities without kowtowing to the notion of a white savior.
I tell you what we’ll do. To make this up to you, we promise that we will remain marginalized, mostly ancillary characters in most of the Hollywood blockbusters for the rest of the year. We also swear that we will allow you to win and be nominated for the bulk of Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Tony Awards, Peabody Awards, Billboard Awards, MTV Awards, America’s Got Talent, spelling bees, luge races, school shootings, mass murders, police-shooting trials, Senate races and rose ceremonies on The Bachelor.
I don’t want there to be any hard feelings. I know that white people have so little to celebrate in America that seeing black people smile, if only for one second, could just be the thing that breaks your brittle little racist hearts.
Black celebrations surrounding the success of Black Panther are triggering Colonizers by the thousands. One Black mainstream Comic Book Character to lead a AAA franchise, after decades of White men isn’t near enough, and no drunken Hancock or Hard “R” rated, 25 year old Blade bloodbath will do. Being Black and superpowered isn’t enough, our children deserve heroes as noble, affirming and aspirational as a Steve Rogers. And we rejoice now because we’ve got a NATION OF THEM.
It’s not just the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast – it’s the first with a black director, black writers, black costume and production designers, and a black executive producer. Reasonable people of all backgrounds who have actually seen the film, note the high caliber of the predominately black & female creatives behind this effort.
The story of Black Panther and Wakanda are aspirational & positive. Familes can and are taking kids of all colors to go see it. Communities nationwide are buying out entire screenings for students. We are heading into “Roots” level cultural saturation. Those same kids can pretend they are Black Panther or Shuri with the impressive line of HASBRO toys and merchandise that enjoys the full marketing muscle of DISNEY/MARVEL behind it.
Featuring black kids on the packaging and black child actors in the commercials might mean little and less to white fans, A friend of mine, Charles Conley a talented Cosplayer, Foamsmith and owner of Ebony Warriors Studios said this about the commercial above for Black Panther toys featuring Black kids. –
I just saw my first Black Panther toy commercial and it brought me to tears. The little black boy looked like me. FINALLY seeing this happen on a global level makes me feel that I can be a superhero too.
Black Panther broke Fandango’s 11 year presales record and it’s being celebrated by a vast majority of critics and fans, currently has an A+ CinemaScore. This praise was hard earned and totally appropriate.
“Wonder Woman” being a woman and “Black Panther” being Black in stories about realities faced by people that share their gender or ethnicity upset you? You’ve got serious issues, but being a target of institutional racism or sexism aren’t amongst them. Understand, it’s your privilege that allows you freedom to live a non-political existence. The political views of the filmmakers, other fans or any relevant social commentary surrounding their stories isn’t the problem.
The truth is, happy black people upset you.
My only request is in public forums with people with targets on thier backs, you have sense enough to read the room, then cover your mouth and avoid getting white fragility all over everyone else’s good time.
The best CBM’s have always had relevant social commentary. For example, the best MARVEL Studios movie to date (until Black Panther) was Captain America: The Winter Solder. CATWS was not just about Cap fighting The Winter Solider. It posed larger questions of who do we allow ourselves to become as a nation and what freedoms we risk losing when we give in to our fears? Is the use of extrajudicial preemptive assinations and unlimited illegal governmental survallence of American citizens congruent with our democracy?
In the same way, Black Panther is special because it’s so much more than two CGI guys in Panther suits punching each other. It explores who T’Challa is, man and king. The Hamlet-like tension as his father’s son to honor his legacy and the stark realities of reconciling Wakanda’s isolationist past.
STAND UP! You are a KING! –
Should Wakanda break it’s long standing policy of isolation to protect it’s resources and culture? Or come out of the shadows to help those who don’t enjoy the many benefits Wakandans take for granted? (Sound familiar?) The catalyst for this change is Michael B. Jordan’s epically raw Killmonger. No shade but, Loki who? Unquestionably the most poignant and in some ways understandably motivated villains in the MCU. At one point, this text book definition of prodigal son’s big reveal may just have you nodding your head in agreement.
Sure, there are a lot of action sequences and cool, futuristic gadgets and things explode magnificently, But at it’s core, It’s about T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and all of Wakanda at a crossroad and struggling toward a future worth having.
What makes T’Challa T’Challa? Obviously we had the political responsibility, you’ve got the suit, the claws, the strength and we’ve got the fact that he’s African, that’s what makes him unique. – Ryan Coogler
Boseman’s the films vibranium core of confidence, class, intellect and pathos. He is the calm eye of the storm of intrigue and allows the impeccable ensemble cast to shine. Here is the man himself Black Panther Director Ryan Coogler breaking down his filmmaking experience in own words-
Danai Gurrera’s General Okoye.
A force of nature and an artist with a spear. Her strength only matched by her love of king & country. Best fighter in the MCU (come at me). Messes with T’Challa like a big sister, but trust and believe, the hand you lay on her “little brother” is the hand you lose. You have to see her in action.
Her performance should earn a best supporting actress nod at Oscar time and a spin off.
Matter of fact it’s such a powerful, female lead, ensemble cast Boseman is outshined in his own movie whenever Gurira or Wright are on screen.
Black Women Are The Main Characters in Black Panther.
A strong case is made for that statement in USA TODAY article by Anika Reed “5 Ways Black Panther Celebrates and Elevates Black Women”
“Young black girls who may have been ashamed to wear clothing specific to their African parents’ home country might be prouder of their heritage upon leaving the theater. Black women who have been shown almost exclusively straight hair onscreen for the better part of the last few decades might be inspired to wear their hair naturally. And if the movie becomes as big a success as predicted, there’s a strong possibility that generations of black women and girls will live in a society where it’s normal to see a majority black cast in a major Hollywood film.”
Disney’s newest Princess is #blackgirlmagic personified. I loved everything about Letitia Wright’s performance and can’t wait to see her own every phase four MARVEL film she’s in. And, according to an article titled “Black Panther’ Is Groundbreaking, But It’s Shuri Who Could Change The World” -representation really does matter-
“Shuri (played by Letitia Wright 2 ) is the sister of T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and the film’s titular character. She oversees the technological operations of the superscientific nation. If you’re comparing T’Challa to James Bond, she’s Q. She’s also the funniest character in the movie, steals every scene she’s in and — for my money — the most important character.
Here’s why: The volume of evidence shows that when audiences see on-screen representations of themselves, particularly aspirational ones, that experience can fundamentally change how they perceive their own place in the world. Black people have been historically underrepresented on screen, and black women in strong roles even more so. Shuri provides a science-y role model for black women, a group distinctly underrepresented in STEM fields.”
Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a covert Wakandin intelligence operative experiences life outside the sheltered paradise of Wakanda and that shapes her worldview as she challenges her King and Ex. Her emotional range is dynamic and her character in the comics actually takes a surprising turn I’d like to see in the sequel.
I would be remiss not to mention the legions of behind-the-scene artisans, linguists, set designers, costume designers, EFX, technical staff, combat trainers and stunt people too numerous to name that brought the afrofuturistic city-state of Wakanda to life.
All blessings to Kendrick Lamar and the artists involved for the sinewy, thumping beats that backed the action. I’ve been listening non stop to the best Album I can recall inspired by a Comic Book Movie. I’m calling this the Album of the Year! It’s straight up FIRE! You need to listen if you aren’t already. Here it is on Spotify
The video of “All The Stars” is life:
In hindsight, I don’t believe Black Panther would had been this successful as a film or a cultural artifact years ago when I wanted to see Black Panther as part of The Avengers. Marvel gained a lot of confidence making these movies since then and the wisdom to trust the predominantly Black filmmakers, lead by Mr. Coogler, to do their thing. It paid off.
When I walked out of Black Panther what surprised me most were the conversations with my kids. Ultimately, what moved them weren’t the cool gadgets or comic book action set pieces. They loved T’Challa & Shuri’s playful sibling dynamic and I had the realization they were paying attention to deeper cultural messages than I would imagine. They were chattering about character story arcs and motivations. They disapproved of Killmongers methods, but understood his pain. My jaw dropped when my eight year old baby girl said, “We need Black Panthers EVERYWHERE boys and girls not just Wakanda, everywhere our people suffer, like Green Lanterns.” *snaps* for that!
“I am T’Challa & Killmonger, we are both. We choose who we want to be.” -Will 11
An entire nation of strong, proud, self-actualized, non-stereotypical, black folks will do that for a child. One day, it won’t be as big of a deal to see that on screen. One day, all fandoms will reflect thier fans. My kids hopefully will not remember people that looked like them were once only in the margins but occupying the center as we do in Black Panther.
They will hopefully forget we were only sidekicks once, and in her times of doubt, my baby girl will remember to stand up, she is a Queen.
Black Panther is a powerful, resonant, self-reflective exercise that pays homage to both the Source Material and the African Diaspora it represents with unconditional love, deep respect, unique style and an effortless flourish, yet still remembers to be a hell of a good time at the movies!
Black Panther was more than I could possibly ask for and one of the best examples of what a comic book movie can be. Period.
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All other art: DISNEY/MARVEL