There are some films you MUST see in theaters to truly appreciate the emotions they elicit in the members of the audience. Streaming films at home is undoubtedly masochistic because audience members are depriving themselves of rich, unique experiences that one could only get in a theater. Black Panther is a film that must be seen in theaters at least once, though every cell in your body will undoubtedly drag you back to the theater for a second or third viewing. When I was a child, I never thought a superhero film featuring a nearly all-black cast would ever be made. As a black woman, this film truly made my life and will be the first film my children will ever watch. Black Panther is more than a film or a formidable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it is a movement, it is a phenomenon, it is a cornucopia of inspiration, optimism, pride, celebration, and self-determination for a historically disenfranchised, underrepresented community. Black Panther is a meticulous and stunning illustration of black power
Marvel Comics created Black Panther in 1966 by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby. He made his first appearance in issue #52 of Fantastic Four and, under writer-artist Don McGregor’s direction, was integrated into the very popular and well-received comic series, Jungle Action. The Black Panther is one of the very first black superheroes in comics, having preceded Falcon (1969), Luke Cage (1972), or DC Comics’ John Stewart as the Green Lantern (1972). Dwayne McDuffie, a prominent African-American writer-editor, among many other critics, widely praised the originality of the Black Panther’s origin, morality, conviction, strength, determination, physical and mental prowess, as well as the deviation from stereotypes of black comic characters. A movie about Black Panther had been in pre-production hell since 1992 due to differences amongst the creators of the comic universe, actors, directors, producers, and release accommodations that needed to be made for other films. In 2018, we have received one of the most, if not the most, original superhero films of all time, and one of the absolute best installments in the MCU. This is made clear by the umpteenth box-office records this film is breaking around world, including the biggest debut of a film with a black director, the second largest opening for the MCU, and the fifth best opening of all time.
Every aspect of the production of Black Panther is of the highest caliber and was created with the utmost care and precision. The film was made under Director Ryan Coogler’s (Creed) adroit, impressive direction and densely populated by world-class, widely lauded black actors; Chadwick Boseman (42) as King T’Challa/Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) as Erik Killmonger, Lupita N’yongo (12 Years a Slave) as Nakia, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) as Okoye, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as W’Kabi, Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It) as Ramonda, and Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Zuri, among others. This film subverts the norm of superhero film casts being majority white. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis reprise their MCU roles of CIA Agent Everett K. Ross and Ulysses Klaue “Klaw,” respectively, which were previously established in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The cinematography of this film, which physically arrests and entraps you within the screen, was managed by acclaimed cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, who has made history recently as the first woman to ever be nominated for the Best Cinematographer Oscar for her stunning work on Mudbound. The screenplay was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Beth McGuire and several other cultural consultants were utilized to ensure that this film undoubtedly served as a multi-layered, nuanced “love letter” to Africa.
Opening the film is remarkable animated exposition that provides the viewers with the origin story of Wakanda, the fictitious African nation at the focus of this film, and the rise of the Black Panther. A meteorite composed of the most precious and versatile alien metal, vibranium, crashes into the continent of Africa (localized to one region), causing incessant fighting between the five tribes over control of this precious metal. The vibranium’s concentration in the soil gives rise to the creation of a heart-shaped herb, which one warrior ingests and becomes the divine Black Panther, using the herb’s powers and abilities to unite the five tribes. Wakanda hides in isolation ostensibly as a third world country, though it has become the most technologically advanced nation of all time due to their access to the precious vibranium. A flashback set in 1992 Oakland, California, reveals that Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), brother of King T’Chaka (John Kani) of Wakanda, dismayed by Wakanda’s isolationist policies, has enlisted black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis) to infiltrate Wakanda and steal some of its precious vibranium to distribute it to all peoples of African ancestry all over the world so they are able to fight their oppressors. King T’Chaka discovered Prince N’Jobu’s treason via N’Jobu’s trusted ally, Zuri who reveals himself to have been working under T’Chaka’s direction the entire time. T’Chaka is forced to murder his brother once he attempts to harm Zuri. T’Chaka then deliberately abandons N’Jobu’s young son, Erik Killmonger, in America to maintain the isolation and secrecy of Wakanda. Twenty-four years later, as King T’Chaka has been murdered by Helmut Zumo, T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, is poised to become the new King of Wakanda/the Black Panther. As T’Challa and his trusted aides, Okoye of the female warrior clan, Dora Milaje, and social activist Nakia, attempt to retrieve the vibranium stolen by Klaue,who is now working in collusion with Killmonger to infiltrate Wakanda, they discover Killmonger’s existence. Killmonger’s decades-long resentment of former king T’Chaka for the death of his father and his guarantee of difficult life riddled with discrimination and struggle toward self-actualization, drives him to arrive in Wakanda and challenge the country’s isolationist policies and T’Challa as the true heir to the throne.
Black Panther is the breathtaking love letter to Africa that people of African ancestry in the past and the present couldn’t have anticipated fully. This outright, joyous, proud celebration of African heritage, never wanes in its potency due to all of the formal techniques employed in the film working in beautiful synchronization to forward the thematic content of the work. Ruth E. Baker, principal costume designer, referenced the Maasai, Himba, Dogon, Basotho, Tuareg, Sinil, Dinka, Xhosa, Suri, and Zulu people in the construction of the immaculate, authentic 700 costumes she created for the film. The costume design is truly fabulous and gives every character a sense of regality as nearly everyone is adorned in beautiful warrior gear or traditional Kente cloth/diverse textiles. This costume design is incredibly significant because it allows for the portrayal of black characters as royalty, which isn’t the most common in cinema. Baker has broken new ground while paying diligently crafted homage to antiquated and present African heritage. Black Panther’s score was composed by Ludwig Goransson, widely adulated, prolific audio producer who scored Coogler’s 2013 directorial debut and critically acclaimed drama, Fruitvale Station, and his extremely well-received Rocky sequel, Creed. Goransson has also worked on several sitcoms and has lent a hand to the production of recording artist Childish Gambino’s last three studio albums. The score transitions from slick, smooth hip hop instrumentals to traditional, rhythmically authentic/African spiritual-esque soundscapes in a sonically pleasing manner that never seizes its grip on the viewer’s auditory investment. The cinematography is the astounding. Upon the very first long, closed form shot of Wakanda gracing the screen, several people near me gasped so loudly, you would have thought someone had died. The cinematography, special effects editing, and set design work impressively well together to create a visual masterpiece. The city of Wakanda is a technological marvel: there are aerial subway systems, hovercrafts, medical devices that can rectify a bullet wound in minutes, and top-tier fighter jets. The world of Wakanda, is fully emblematic of Afrofuturism: the incorporation of black people’s history and culture in science fiction films. Hannah Beachler, main set designer, sought to honor the sub-Saharan African landscapes of the comic books and analyzed the architecture of existing tribes to make Wakandan technologically advanced in way that suggests that the region naturally advanced in a utopic manner, as opposed to having been ravaged/influenced by colonialism. The organic, plausible look and feel of the nation of Wakanda is one pivotal element of Black Panther that makes it one of the most original superhero films to have ever been released.
One question that often nags at me when I watch superhero films is: “My GOD, this action sequence takes place in a major metropolitan area, how much destruction have these folks caused and how many casualties have been racked up at this point?” With Black Panther, I truly had no such question perturb me during my viewing because all the action sequences come to fruition with such a sense of purpose and necessity, not just purely for giving the audience an adrenaline rush in the viewer. All the combat in this film is truly choreographed so gracefully and smoothly and edited in such a skillful manner that allows for quick tonality shifts. There is no sense of braggadocio or superiority complexes among these superheroes and skilled warriors; they are humble, noble individuals who only fight as a last resort, as best epitomized by Wakanda’s isolationist policies. There are a large variety of shots that bring Black Panther to life: oblique-angle (laterally tinted) shots that imply POV shift and disorientation; jump cuts and fades that coherently connect events in the past and the present; low-angle, high-angle, and eye-level shots that showcase every complexity of Wakanda’s design; several dolly/tracking shots and arc shots of characters’ interacting that contribute to the organic ambiance in Wakanda. Wakanda is one of the most believable and palpable “miniverses” present within the MCU due largely to the exceptional continuity among actors who use Wakandan “accents” and speak in Wakandan dialects. The lighting throughout the film is some of the most gorgeous and luscious that has ever been implemented into a Marvel film; each and every character looks breathtakingly beautiful and divine.
The soundtrack, produced and arranged by recording artist, Kendrick Lamar, is an incredibly appropriate tribute to black culture. Featuring several popular, acclaimed black artists such as SZA, Jorja Smith, ScHoolboy Q, Anderson .Paak, and Vince Staples among many others, this soundtrack is a well-structured cohesive album that contributes a sense of duality to Black Panther as well as extending the universe’s impact beyond cinema. This film is incredibly culturally significant for an abundance of reasons. The juxtaposition of T’Challa’s and Killmonger’s ideologies is incredibly reminiscent of the conflict present in the late 1950s-1970s for black upward movement and self-determination, illustrated by the ideology of the Black Panthers conflicting with those of civil rights activist groups. Killmonger embodies resistance to oppression via taking any measures, even violence, necessary to ensure the liberation of all people of African ancestry. Via Killmonger’s motives and actions, T’Challa slowly comes to realize the hypocrisy and negligence polluting the current Wakandan ideology. This film tackles the subject of what it means to be black anywhere in the world: the impoverishment, political and economic disenfranchisement, and the lack of access to resources due to systemic racism. The film also tackles the topic of what it could mean to be black everywhere in the future, thus making this film an afro-futuristic piece. This film is a love letter to all black history and instills a sense of optimism in black individuals for our future. All the characters within this film are noble and inspirational, especially the powerfully and intelligently portrayed female characters that will undoubtedly serve as role models for young black children everywhere. This film is so significant most fundamentally because of representation of black people; there is still an existent issue of colorism in Hollywood that selects lighter-skinned black actors for feature films. But this film and similar films, such as Get Out, are working toward reversing that exclusivist and racist practice by featuring true “redbones” (as coined in African culture) or dark-skinned black individuals. Lamar and a multitude of black activists have bought out theaters in low-income neighborhoods around the world to ensure that children of African ancestry everywhere have access to this wonderful, truly relatable film and see people who look like them portrayed so regally and beautifully. Anything that has the potential to influence current generations and future generations to come is something to be cherished and shared as fervently and quickly as possible.
Black Panther is a notable moment in human history, there is no way to undermine its significance. The impact it currently has on the world and will have for the future are far-reaching and profound. This film is for every person of every race, creed, lifestyle, etc. What is portrayed in this film is an elegantly crafted, beautiful, humane, and original story. Rush to the theater to see this amazing demonstration of the universal human experience; you won’t regret a single second of it.
5 out of 5 stars