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My Take on Black Panther

There is no doubt that Black Panther can be considered anything less than a cultural phenomenon. Arguably, it is one of the best films of 2018; it is entertaining, action-packed, richly designed, and thematically, culturally significant. Black Panther shines a light on African culture, highlights strong women, and speaks to complicated family dynamics and the struggle of coming into your own, eliciting positive responses from critics and fans alike. I was so excited to see how the hype built up for this film, and was even more excited that the film actually lived up to the hype! Black Panther debuts at a pivotal moment in film history, and in the history of our nation as well. I’m so happy the Marvel really went in 100% and did this film right, assembling a stellar ensemble of actors, designers, and a standout director. Keep reading if you want to hear my thoughts on some of the best and most interesting points of this film!

The first thing that made this film resonate so strongly with me was the aesthetic of the film. It was super colorful, vibrant and fun. A lot of superhero movies tend to go for a dark and gritty feel, i.e., the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy (which I love, don’t get me wrong), but there’s something so exciting about how more and more directors are embracing the fun side of these superhero movies.

After all, these movies are based on comic books, many of which are super colorful and fantastical in theme and tone. We’ve seen it most recently with Thor: Ragnarok, which was a crazy, brightly colored acid trip of movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which was equally as fast paced and entertaining. So it’s awesome to see Blank Panther continuing with this, while still standing out and making its mark.

The color and vibrancy isn’t just an interesting aesthetic choice, but it serves a thematic purpose as well. For example, during the two ceremonial fight scenes where the five tribes gather to watch the showdown at Warrior Falls, all of those costumes are inspired by outfits and fashions of actual African tribes!

The Border Tribe, decked out in blue, were inspired by the people of Lesotho, who wear Basotho blankets. They also sport body scarification inspired by the Mercy and Gumi tribes; Killmonger sports his own form of body scarification, but his is more inspired by the Surma tribe of Ethiopia. Then there’s the River Tribe, outfitted primarily in green with shell detailing. The River tribe leader sports a huge lip disk, which is also inspired by the Mercy tribe.

The Merchant Tribe wears white, inspired by Nigerian cultures, and the Mining Tribe wears red, and takes inspiration from the Himba tribe of Namibia. The Himba tribe is known for covering their hair and body in red clay, and the red clay can be seen covering the Merchant tribe leader’s braids

Last but not least, you the Mountain tribe, whose Gorilla mask that he wears while fighting plays homage to his role as Man Ape in the comic

Director Ryan Coogler and his team spent lots of time in Africa writing the script and doing research, and their dedication and attention to detail really shows in this film.

Another important scene that is visually and aesthetically significant is the casino fight scene in South Korea. An important detail to note is that when the three characters enter, T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye, they are decked out in black, green, and red, respectively, which also happen to be the colors of the Pan African flag. Also, the bright neon lighting of urban South Korea serves as an awesome, almost fantastical background to the car chase that ensues. It gives a little bit of magic to this film that relies so heavily on technology to bring about it’s action and excitement. 

Another thing that was so strong in this movie was the relevance of the conflicting ideologies of T’Challa and Killmonger. T’Challa wants to continue with the long held policy Wakanda policy of isolationism. Wakanda isolates itself so it is not poisoned or disrupted by the plagues and evils of the outside world. They have created their own little utopia, and they intend to keep it that way. Killmonger, however, wants Wakanda’s power to be known to the world; ultimately, he wants to arm his oppressed brethren with advanced Wakandan technology and have them fight back against their oppressors. Although his anger at the way his people have been raped, exploited and killed, he is ultimately an extremist

These dueling ideologies between T’Challa and Killmonger which are reminiscent of the dueling ideologies of the civil rights movement. T’Challa’s ideology can be compared to that of Martin Luther King Jr., while Killmonger ideology matches up with Malcolm X. Malcolm X and MLK clashed many times throughout their time as civil rights leaders in how to bring about change. MLK preached compassion and nonviolent action, while Malcolm X wanted to use force and action to bring about his goals. This debate stretches even farther back, all the way to writers and philosophers like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Dubois.

However, the movie does end on a positive note that makes us hopeful for change: T’Challa opens the Wakandan borders so as to use the country’s resources to build up underprivileged communities. He plans to build the an Outreach Center in the same Oakland complex where Killmonger grew up and witnessed the murder of his father. T’Challa has been deeply impacted by Killmonger. He takes Killmonger’s ideology and turns it into something productive rather than destructive. His policies have found a happy middle ground that emphasizes building up communities and helping the younger generation of underserved black youth reach their full potential. The solution is not violence or revenge, but using that energy to give back to the community. The final scene, where a group of young neighborhood boys interact with T’Challa and marvel at his high tech ship, is so important. These young men represent the new generation of youth who will be able to use Black Panther as a role model. This movie gives young black men a superhero that looks like them, someone they can relate to and look up to. In a world dominated by mostly white superheros, it’s important to have that representation.

Black Panther also introduces some much needed female representation. In a film with a ton of strong, interesting female characters, there are three I want to highlight in particular: Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri. Okoye is the captain of the Dora Milaje, the all female royal guard of Wakanda, and one of Prince T’Challa’s closest friends and confidants. She embodies strength, loyalty, and love of country. She would rather die than see the crown of Wakanda and mantle of Black Panther fall into the wrong hands, and that strength and dedication to a cause makes her an incredible role model for young girls and boys alike. Furthermore, her look and character design are very important. She rocks a bald head decorated in super cool and fierce tattoos

In the South Korea casino scene, she is forced to wear a wig in order to blend in, and she remarks upon how much she hates it as the shaved heads of the Dora Milaje are a huge source of pride. As the the fight scene unfolds, she whips the hair piece at one of the bad guys, which is pretty badass if I do say so myself! She is able to use her femininity as a weapon.

Nakia, our next Wakandan badass, pulls a similar move when she whips of her high heel and bludgeons one of the bad guys. In general, Nakia is pretty badass in her own right. Although she is the love interest of T’Challa, that is never the main focus or point of her character. She exists outside of her relationship with T’Challa. She is smart, strong, and a gifted warrior. She operates as spy for Wakanda, going on various missions throughout the world. In fact, when we first meet her, she is on a mission to rescue a band of kidnapped girls, which is incredibly relevant due to the numerous high profile kidnappings in Nigeria by the militant terrorists group Boko Haram. Nakia disapproves of Wakanda isolationist policy and wishes they could use their resources and technology to help others; she is much more globally conscious and aware than her lover T’Challa. She cares about those who are downtrodden and abused in the world, and selflessness and caring nature make her a compelling character. Ultimately, just as Killmonger has an impact on T’Challa’s new policies, she plays an influential role in pulling Wakanda into the global spotlight.

Last but not least, we have the hilarious and super-genius Shuri. Shuri is T’Challa’s younger sister, and one of my personal favorite characters. Not only does she serve as the Q to T’Challa’s 007, cranking out dope gadgets and newer, updated designs of the suit, but she is also seriously funny. She makes a hilarious vine reference, digging at T’Challa’s shoe choice by exclaiming, “What are thoooooose!?!” The fact that she’s tech savvy and unapologetically smarter than everyone makes her so fun to watch. I could definitely see her serving as a role model for young girls looking to break into the tech field. The STEM fields are notoriously male-dominated, and Shuri serves as another important point of representation for the younger generation. Overall, she was definitely the breakout star of this film, and I’m excited to see how her character develops in the upcoming movies!

All in all, this film was entertaining, fun, heartbreaking, and extremely relevant to our culture today. This film smashed barriers and broke records, and I’m so glad it had such an impact. I can’t wait to see little Black Panther’s and Dora Milaje running around next Halloween. This film just goes to show that African-American directed films, with an African-American cast, depicting African-American centered stories can be successful too, and we shouldn’t be afraid to tell their stories, too.

 

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