Warning: This post is political. This movie is political. If that bothers you, feel free to say so or go quietly away. No name calling will be tolerated.
Black Panther is spectacular. That is the gist of my assessment.
As a white woman, I feel very ill-equipped to talk about how many boundaries this film breaks and why; my personal experience with racism is limited or non-existent, and it’s small potatoes. Like, one lady at a restaurant being rude to me because she didn’t like white people…probably. Outside myself, I only know what I have heard and seen from others, and it’s not very much even then.
I don’t want to diminish the suffering of others by pretending I know exactly what it’s like. I can only say that I hope that more films like this get made (both politically and with diverse casts), and I can tell you what I personally thought after seeing Black Panther in the theatre on Friday, February 16th.
I like this film because it runs on a smaller scale than some of Marvel’s other fare. I may have said this before, but there is only so big you can go with universe-threatening villains before it begins to feel silly, or the previous movie villains look like tinker toys in comparison. Do kids these days still know tinker toys?
Regardless, there’s a concept called “Power Creep,” in which the constant need to one-up the last villain or super power makes earlier movies and series less awe-inspiring, and therefore they won’t hold up in future viewings.
I like that the cast doesn’t look like me. Really, I do. I don’t have an issue relating to someone with another background or skin color than me, maybe because I tend to focus more on common human experiences that we all share. I like films that try to capture those more universal topics, and people’s differences make them unique and fascinating, keeping them from being too same-y. They also provide a good learning experience, which I was told from a young age to pursue and value, even if it’s – God forbid – “outside of the textbook!”
I thought I might mention it, if only because some people can’t seem to acknowledge and relate to someone else’s basic humanity when too many differences stand in their way. Personally, I think that perspective is depressing and limiting, and in this case, they’re missing out on a great movie because of it. But c’est la vie.
I like that Black Panther is political. It really couldn’t avoid being so, from the race side of things, and I’m glad it didn’t shy away for fear of turning off the Caucasian audience. People who complain that movies, celebrities, athletes, and other “entertainers” shouldn’t be pushing politics onto their audience are usually in a position where they can comfortably walk away from the discussion at any point, and they get annoyed when someone makes it harder for them to do so. They don’t want to accept that person’s individuality as part of their whole package; they just want a show, damn it! Why is it coming with extras that they didn’t order?
Because other people cannot escape having these discussions. Their lives and families are affected every day, and they can’t just walk away. It’s called systemic oppression for a reason; it’s so ingrained in our society that we on top don’t think much of it and don’t have to, because we benefit. We, whether by direct actions or passive complacency, force others down so that we can be raised up, and that’s not right.
That is part of the human experience I mentioned previously; just because I haven’t personally experienced things like racism, slavery, and families being torn apart, it doesn’t mean that those topics can’t resonate with me. I am an ignorant outsider, but I care.
I like the story in Black Panther. In short, and sans major spoilers, Prince T’Challa returns from the events of Captain America Civil War to assume his place as the king of Wakanda. Wakanda hides its technological advances from the world by posing as a third-world country, and there is friction among many citizens, whether to reveal their country’s true nature or to keep it safe and secluded, despite constant threats of theft and potential discovery anyway. They owe their success to an alien metal called Vibranium, and the Black Panther’s powers to a heart-shaped plant that was effected by the coming of said metal.
The film’s politics come from that above-mentioned tension: will Wakanda reveal itself, and if so, could it become a haven for other African countries and peoples around the world? It’s an empowering narrative, and not just because it’s a superhero movie.
I like the costume design. I’m mostly ignorant of African cultures (I’m sorry. Japan came into my heart first), but I can see how much effort was put into every piece of clothing worn in Black Panther. The fighting outfits are distinctive and visually interesting, but still practical, especially for the women. That’s rare. *cough* Wonder Woman *cough cough*
That’s another thing: I love how many prominent women are in this story. I also liked pretty much all of them as characters, even if I forgot one or two names during the course of the movie (just for perspective, I forgot Martin Freeman’s character’s name at some point too, and simply started mentally referring to him as “Secret Agent Watson.”
Some people might find this politically charged as well, having so many women in the cast, and so many of them kicking ass. I invite them to go suck their thumbs and sit in the corner. The girls on screen can hold a scene just as well as any guy. Get over it.
Much like The Last Jedi, there seems to be a theme about your mentors disappointing you, leading you to one day surpass them. You may also have to clean up the mess that their pride, fear, or hubris has left behind. This is becoming a common refrain in movies and television recently, particularly revolving around male characters and their pride as men. Personally, I agree with those messages, as I think that valuing pride and hypermasculinity over being a secure, healthy person with a good understanding and control over their emotions is a problem that affects all kinds of men in modern society. Depending on how those feelings manifest, it can also affect their partners and other family and friends that surround them, so I like seeing more of these stories becoming popular.
Again, there’s a human experience to be found there, and the smaller threat makes the story feel more personal and relatable. I actually felt bad for the villain in the end, because he had clearly gone through so much pain to become the way that he was.
Black Panther will speak to different people in different ways, but some of the takeaways aren’t that far off from each other. I didn’t feel alienated or preached at when I saw this film; I felt enthralled and spoken to, in a perfectly frank and engaging manner. I’m happy to see that the opening weekend proved so profitable, and I hope more directors will tell these kinds of stories, and many more, in the future. After all, the population is always changing, and the “small voices” are growing too loud, too numerous, to be ignored.
Note: All images in this review belong to Marvel and Disney.