We were introduced to Marvel’s latest addition to the growing legion of MCU stars in Captain America: Civil War, but whether or not you knew he was going to get his own stand-alone flick it was abundantly clear that T’Challa of Wakanda had a metric ton’s-worth of story potential.
SPOILERS for Black Panther abound beyond this point!
Hail to the King!
Black Panther brings us to the heart of Africa’s greatest secret.
To the rest of the world Wakanda is a poor country of primitives that has nothing to offer. To T’Challa and his family, however, their nation is a rich, thriving cultural center vibrant with historical significance, traditional values, and respect for the bonds that have tied their people together. The Wakandans, unbeknownst to the great powers of the world, are more advanced than they could ever have begun to guess — not only is the capital a modern city full of life and commerce, but it lives off the superiority of its technology and the secret mine of vibranium that has been the fuel for their growth and development for centuries.
This is the kingdom to which T’Challa returns following the events of Civil War, which saw both the death of his father, King T’Chaka, and his big reveal as Black Panther.
It’s also the kingdom he has just inherited.
Now king, T’Challa sets out to uphold the ideals of peace and secrecy his father had taught him, but his first challenge proves to be formidable. A powerful opponent makes a bid for the throne, revealing a staggering truth that not only upsets the balance of power, but forces the young king to question the beliefs on which his world-view is built.
Back to Basics: The Brilliance of Black Panther
A very good friend of mine saw the film opening weekend and practically burst with the joy she felt at what the story had accomplished. She told me about how it the goes back to the basic values which are at the core of all stories of heroism, but which tend to get buried beneath the glitz and glam of most MCU movies these days. Her excitement over the fact that Black Panther was ultimately a story about courage, family, and loyalty was infectious and so I went into my own viewing with this idea in mind.
The strategy of returning to the foundational traits of a superhero is really the underlying brilliance of the movie. It allows the presentation of a black lead actor as well as the establishment of a predominantly female supporting cast to shine without the need to contend with convoluted plot points. The choice to keep it simple was a stellar move on the part of the writers and director, Ryan Coogler.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T to my friend for pointing this out!
Make Way for the Ladies
Not only does Black Panther charge the line on the issue of race in the film industry, it reaches up and smashes the glass ceiling in terms of the casting of women. The lead role may be filled by a man, but the first few minutes of the movie make it clear that he wouldn’t get very far without the women who surround him. From General Okoye to Nakia and (erma gerd!) his sister, Shuri, T’Challa has no lack of feminine prowess to call upon when he needs a hand saving the day.
That isn’t to say that T’Challa is weak! He’s already demonstrated his impressive bad-guy-busting moves and he gets plenty of chances to show off his remarkable abilities throughout the movie. Masculine ego doesn’t get in the way, though. He thanks Okoye for her service to him, allows Nakia to stand up for herself despite his desire to keep her safe, and he ain’t too proud to call up his little sis when he needs a technological boost in a fight.
These women steal the movie without question … especially Shuri!
Debunking the “Reverse-Racism” Charge
I heard a guy at work make a comment about the film: “Wow, way to just flip the racism thing over and point the finger the other way.”
I think he missed the point. Totally.
Black Panther celebrates the strength of a racial demographic that’s been hounded throughout history by prejudice. It’s not about taking the opportunity to “turn the tables on white people,” though — a point that the movie itself makes, in fact. T’Challa’s defeat of Killmonger prevents such action and his decision to open Wakanda to the world utterly negates the possibility of it.
Added to which is the use Agent Ross is put to in the plot. Here’s our “token white dude,” as the guy at work went on to remark. More, he’s the representation of the threat Wakanda’s secretive culture faces from outside interference should Ross report his findings. Far more than an attempt to be inclusive, the character’s participation subverts the traditional dynamic of prejudicial intolerance.
Ross comes to T’Challa’s aid. Without hesitation. He doesn’t support Killmonger — a move that may have seemed more advantageous to an intelligence agent looking to secure a connection with this powerful nation…
He doesn’t do it, though. He never even considers it. Once he learns of T’Challa’s defeat and Killmonger’s accession he gets up off his butt and hustles along to join Shuri and her family in their flight from the capital. He then takes part in T’Challa’s rebellion, demonstrating key traits of heroism himself: valor and self-sacrifice.
Ross illustrates a racial balance that embraces the message of equality and brotherhood. Reverse-racism? It doesn’t even have a place in the discussion.
Black Panther is a movie worth far more than what was spent to make it. It’s more than an action-packed superhero movie (though it’s that as well), it’s a story that taps into ideals and causes that speak to all of us, regardless of cultural background.
The soundtrack is phenomenal, the acting is on-point, and the fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed. Was there a bit of a slow period early on? Yes, there was. I can easily forgive that, though.
Oh yeah, and Andy Serkis was part of it. He was a complete nutter. He was terrific. Of course.
He also introduced Killmonger very effectively. I loved that, as the villain, Michael B. Jordan’s character was repugnant and sympathetic in equal measures. He gave us a personality that was impossible to definitively pass judgment on. Personally, I couldn’t really decide whether I was sorry he died or not … I still can’t. THAT’S the sign of a great bad guy!
All-in-all, Black Panther wins top honors in my book!
What did you guys think? Tell me down in the comments…
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