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Movies and Melanin: “Black Panther” Is One of the Most Empowering Films Of 2018

With a record breaking estimated earning of $213 million by the end of president’s day weekend, Black Panther has officially claimed its throne as one of Marvel’s top films and rightfully so! The empowering film is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, who, in the past, has directed successful films such as Fruitvale Station and Creed. Fans of Coogler are in awe of his latest work.

Like all Marvel movies, the plot is much more complicated than a simple fight between good and evil. Black Panther takes place in the Advanced East-African Kingdom known as Wakanda. Centuries ago the land of Wakanda was struck with a meteorite containing Vibranium— the most precious metal known to man. The massive amount of Vibranium allowed Wakanda to develop into the world’s most advanced society. The radioactive effects of the meteor also affected a heart-shaped herb. When the herb is consumed, it gives the user enormous strength. With that, the birth of a very powerful king became a reality: the Black Panther. For generations, all black panthers who consumed the herb protected the unity between the villages within Wakanda and held the sworn duty of protecting the nation. In order to protect Wakanda from threats of manipulation and domination, T’chaka (John Kani), king and former Black Panther, concealed the nation and its advancements from the rest of the world.

Fast forward to modern day, after the sudden death of T’chaka, his son T’challa (Chadwick Boseman), has been crowned king and becomes the next Black Panther. As he assumes the mantle of king, T’challa has to deal with immense pressure as he vows to protect the nation he calls home. Trouble ensues as past enemy Klaw (Andy Serkis) threatens the kingdom and it’s Vibranium resources again. This time however the true battle isn’t against Klaw, but instead T’challa’s long lost cousin, Erik Killmonger, who’s portrayed by Michael B. Jordan.

The film does an impressive job of delving into the differing political and moral ideologies between the two main characters T’challa and Killmonger. King T’challa believes that the protection of his people and land come before everything else, even if it means remaining in isolation from the world. On the other hand, Killmonger, who’s lived outside of Wakanda in Oakland for most of his life, believes that powerful nation needs to share its resources with black people from other nations who have been mistreated and oppressed for far too long. He believes that it’s time for those that have been stepped on and persecuted to become the new leaders by any means necessary. This includes starting with the spread of powerful Wakandan technology to the various groups of suppressed people.

One successful factor about Black Panther is the major hype it stirred within the black community with black movie goers going as far as donning their own Afrocentric attire to watch the film. Black Panther’s principle cast and director are all black making it a powerful vehicle for black empowerment shown from a their perspective. It completely disproves the idea that films with casts consisting primarily of people of color won’t be as successful.

The casting of black women is another crucial factor for Black Panther’s success. The leading female characters Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) stole the show for me.

Nyong’o plays an intelligent and calm Wakandan spy who on more than one occasion ends up saving King T’Challa. Wright appeals to the light hearted side of the film as her character Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and younger sister to T’challa. Despite her age she leads the design group for all of Wakanda’s modern technology and is the behind the creation of T’Challa’s newly improved sleek Panther suit and weaponry.

Last but not least, is Gurira’s character Okoye, who is the commanding general of the Dora Milaje. They are Wakanda’s most elite armed forces consisting of all female bodyguards with the sole purpose of protecting the king and Wakanda. Their loyalty to the king is fiercely matched with their warrior combat skills. What’s empowering about these black female leads is that they don’tt need the aid of the male characters. The have layers to their characters which allow them to avoid stereotype of the “sassy black woman” or the “crazy black girl.” They allow others in for help, while simultaneously standing firm to their beliefs and what they’re fighting for.

As I was sitting their in the theater I was moved to tears because I had never seen such beautiful representation of black women in the way that Black Panther has portrayed them to be. For once, I could envision myself in a fictional world and not feel out of place. I am positive that millions of young black women feel that way as well. The positive representation needs to be more prominent and explored in Hollywood movies because it’s apparent that the more we relate to the characters we see, the more we’re willing to give them our undivided attention and take that inspiration for the greater good.

It’s important to remember that we can’t just stop here. Just like with Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win, with the crazy success of Get Out and with the obvious success of Black Panther we need to keep pushing for more movies that can represent people of color in different yet, meaningful ways. If we want our stories to be told the right way then, we need to support up and coming directors, producers and actors of color who, essentially, can change the outcome of many people’s lives. With Black Panther, I’d say we’re already on the right path.

Photos Courtesy of Marvel Studios

UCLA 2020 Pamela is a Feature Writer for the UCLA Chapter of Her Campus. When Pamela isn't stressing over exams you can find her obsessing over skin care routines, reading POC-centered novels, and attempting to exercise.