Holy cow, kids — have you seen Black Panther yet? I know it just came out a week ago, but given the record-breaking advance tickets sales and explosive opening weekend box office resulting in the biggest February opening for any film of all time, chances are fairly high you did…
Jonathan and I went opening night, and the energy in the theater was palpable, no doubt because it’s the first film in any major superhero franchise to primarily showcase Black faces, Black voices, Black filmmakers, Black culture, and Black lives. It should go without saying, but when it comes to Hollywood and its notorious lack of diversity, I’m going to say it anyway: this film is long overdue.
Black Panther is a true powerhouse: it’s characters and themes are deeply complex; the story is culturally and politically relevant; and the design was an unbridled love letter to Black and African culture that was a true pleasure to watch. It’s evident why it now ranks among the top of the 18 MCU offerings to date!
That said, my opinion doesn’t really hold much weight; the film wasn’t made for me, after all. So if you’ve seen the film and want to devour reflections on its rich themes and why it’s so significant to Black movie-goers, here are a few insightful commentaries on Black Panther published by Black voices to tide you over until you can see the film again…
Warning: Spoilers in some quotes below, as well as in linked articles.
The response from T’Challa [the Black Panther] and his people to Erik [Killmonger]’s calls for action wasn’t a counterplea for peaceful resistance; it was indifference. As they sat, protected and prospering, the elders of Wakanda washed their hands of the plight of Black people in rest of the world, while refusing to accept Erik as one of their own. T’Challa’s unwillingness to risk the safety of his own people for the sake of other Black people he felt they had no ties to was a strategy handed down to him by ancestors who took a similar position. At its core, Black Panther is not a musing on the best method against universal racism. It is a mirror up to the fractures within our community, calling notions of Black representation and identity into question while interrogating how Black excellence can sometimes fail us.
In a very literal way, Killmonger is the embodiment of the pain and anguish that comes along with being a black American who is unable to trace their familial roots back more than a few generations. Those gaps in ancestral knowledge are the direct result of families being murdered and wiped from the historical record, never to be fully known or remembered by their descendants. Killmonger’s trauma is something that T’Challa can’t fully grasp, given the nature of his own upbringing. The two become diametrically opposed to one another, despite the fact that they are both fundamentally fighting for the betterment of their shared people.
In conceiving Marvel’s all-black space, [director Ryan] Coogler has more than met a tall task. He’s constructed a superhero epic about the power of preservation in which a nation fights to retain the very idea of itself. He’s imagined a familiar story about a black family in which the consistent point of inflection, even in their pursuit of unity, is a sense of separation. He’s conceived a tragedy about native rituals, colonized minds, and absent fathers, with nods to the visible stamina of black matriarchs, led by the queen, Angela Bassett.
“I want to see the things they have to offer [in Africa]. After all, the media does not show the good. We see Africa as a third-world country but it is probably so much more.” — Scottia Coy
“Black women are as strong as any men and black little girls can be superheroes.” — Gabriela Myles
“If Black Panther were in our country, I feel like Black Panther would be in control of violence and racism. Black people would come together.” — Marquez Celestin
“What [Ryan Coogler] has said since is: ‘We’ve been African all along. We’re just doing what we’ve been doing for thousands of years, but we’ve been told that it’s ghetto, or it’s hood, or it’s wrong, or it’s shameful, or it’s bad. But we’re just being who we are—all the horrible things that happened to us in this country, and they can’t wipe that out—they can’t wipe out who we are. That’s the connection.'”
If Black Panther were to follow typical Hollywood tropes, the first time we see Wakanda would have been [Agent] Ross waking up from his coma in a foreign country only to have the foreign land’s machinations laid out for him and the audience for the first time. Instead, Ross in awe at Wakanda upon waking up from his coma and the people in theaters can laugh at his ignorance. He’s in disbelief at the country’s technological advances and we’re already accustomed to it. We see his disbelief and know what’s coming next. The audience perspective at that moment, and throughout the movie is such a rewarding feature for black folks — because we are so used to our white counterparts constantly underestimating our abilities, mouths agape whenever we “transcend” our perceived limitations.
Have you read any insightful articles about Black Panther this week? I’ll read anything about the film right now (I can’t get enough of Wakanda), but I’m especially interested in reading perspectives from Black viewers. Comment with your suggestions, if you please!
(Top photo property of Marvel/Disney via)