Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

T’Challa a.k.a Black Panther was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Captain America: Civil War, originally serving a role similar to the one Spider-Man played in the comics (the figure who joins Iron Man’s side but then changes his mind). Once Marvel were able to secure the rights for Spider-Man again, Tom Holland’s version of the character was hurriedly fit into the film. Spider-Man was brought in, but Black Panther remained and I think many people would agree that he shined in his debut.

The writing, the suit, the fighting and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal all introduced the new King of Wakanda, and Black Panther picks up shortly after, where T’Challa is returning to Wakanda to be crowned king.

Firstly, there has bee a lot of excitement about this film because it is one of the first mainstream Hollywood films with a black director and a mostly black cast. Additionally, it is also one of the first movies in a while focusing on a black superhero. Inevitably, people’s excitement at these developments is also being met with the “colour-blind” or outright racist resentment.

  1. You don’t see me cheering for a new movie with a white cast.

It wouldn’t make sense for you to. There is an endless parade of films with white main characters and supporting characters. Your characters have a wide range of traits and professions. They are not often portrayed as thugs, or streetwise comic relief. The numerical representation of white people on screen far outstrips their representation in America, with over 70% of speaking roles in Hollywood films going to white actors (Sept. 2014- to August 2015). You are so used to this now that you have become blind to it.

Whiteness is the most desired commodity in Hollywood. It is why many stories focusing on black heroes are not viewed as “marketable”, despite successes like Straight Outta Compton and Hidden Figures. Studio heads are more willing to bank on white actors. This is why they favour adaptations of properties with white characters. This is why a character can be whitewashed when Hollywood adapts a story, because they view it as marketable. Then audiences start to internalize the same excuse, and get to the point where they genuinely support the idea that a movie loses interest for them if the protagonist isn’t white.

Consider this, even with the Marvel brand and Black Panther’s introduction in Civil War, it was still considered a “risk” to give $200 million to a black director whose previous work was critically lauded and profitable. There is a long-standing belief that black doesn’t sell as well as white, especially overseas, and Black Panther is challenging the dogma with its empathic opening weekend.

Don’t accuse black people or minorities as a whole of being racist here. Black people and Hispanics generally see more movies than white people do, meaning that a lot of them shell out money to watch (or even repeatedly watch) movies with characters that may not look like them. If minorities can do it, why can’t white people? We can appreciate a good story regardless of race, but we can also be appreciative when we get a great story and great film with actors that represent our population.

In short, if you go into this movie and carry your resentment with you, it is likely to influence your rating of the film.

Moving on…

Firstly, I have to say that this film did an amazing job of bringing Wakanda to life. Everything from the costumes, customs and music transports you to the fictional country that was never colonized. Its technology and clothing blend traditional and futuristic, borrowing inspiration from existing African countries to create something that is truly afrofuturistic.

Second, Black Panther actually gives us a good villain. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger gives us a villain with a tragic backstory and a mission that is more unique than a lot of others you will see. Essentially, he wants to take over the world, but the nuances and motive behind his aspirations are what makes him and the film special. Jordan can be charismatic, intelligent, empathetic, but also threatening. Other villains have also been physically threatening, such as Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy, but without good writing they end up as generic placeholders. In terms of the entire MCU, Kilgrave from Jessica Jones may still have Killmonger beat. However, I have to place Killmonger above Loki as the MCU films’ #1 villain. Black Panther doesn’t shy away from exploring issues of racial identity and racism, and that was a pleasant surprise coming from the same company that turned a doomsday story into a buddy comedy (Thor: Ragnarok). Killmonger’s last line in particular, is one that left me speechless.

Speaking of comedy, it’s generally handled well in this film. I have previously ranted on YouTube and this blog about Marvel’s insistence on humour in their films. The Thor films as a whole are the worst offenders, giving us sloppy writing that regularly fails to build tension because we always know a joke is soon to follow, usually from the most annoying characters (looking at you Kat Dennings). Black Panther has one or two moments where I felt like a joke could have been cut, but overall I believe it is one of the MCU films that has the most balanced humour. There is nothing wrong with humour in itself, but it must fit the characters and the storyline.

In terms of jokes that could have been cut, one of the most notable comes from Andy Serkis as Ulysees Klaue a.k.a Klaw. Reprising his role from Avenvers: Age of Ultron, Klaw serves as an ally to Killmonger. If you have seen the trailers you know there is a scene where Killmonger frees Klaw from captivity, so what I am about to say won’t be too much of a spoiler. During Klaw’s interrogation, he is randomly singing What is Love. I guess the “don’t hurt me, no more” part is meant to be funny because Klaw wants to avoid torture, but the scene also comes across as really random and very Marvel-esque in terms of sloppy humour.

Most of the humour comes from Shuri, T’Challa’s sister. Letitia Wright previously portrayed Nish in season 4 of Black Mirror and she is also able to shine here with the lighter material and the more intense moments. Shuri’s rapport with her brother is one of the highlights of the film and is a perfect example of a more organic approach to comedy, where it flows from a character naturally and doesn’t feel like it was forced in to keep things “fun”.

Alongside Boseman, Wright and Jordan we also have a host of other talented actors and actresses. Danai Gurira, best known as Michonne on The Walking Dead, makes Michonne look like Elsa in this movie. Daniel Kaluuya also plays an important role but he does get outshined by Winston Duke’s M’Baku. Martin Freeman also returns from Civil War as agent Everett Ross, and is yet another talented cast member and Lupita N’yongo rounds it out. For those who have seen the movie, you know her character is the real MVP.

The action in the film is at its best when the hand-to-hand choreography is on display. Some of the larger scenes do feature some shoddy CGI but thankfully these scenes aren’t prevalent enough to ruin the film. The Black Panther shines in his action scenes but Boseman also brings a great presence and power to the character, building off what we saw in Civil War. He is someone who is torn between tradition and chance, past and future.

I know that the hype or the outright anti-black animosity will affect some people’s views of this film. Some might say it is overhyped. I was pleasantly surprised not to feel that way. It is my new favourite MCU film, beating out The Winter Soldier.

Go see the film for yourself, and hopefully you can enjoy the film simply as a film, while also appreciating everything else that comes with it.

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