After my initial reaction to Black Panther, I’ve had some more time to process everything and so, I’m writing another review that’s more structured. There are some new points and mostly old points, but my thoughts are better organized here:
Yes, the hype surrounding Black Panther has everything to do with the all-black cast, black director, black screenwriters, etc. But at the same time, this movie is going to be looked upon as a landmark in African American cinema. I’m not the best person to explain why, but if you are interested, here is a video that talks about why.
As a popcorn movie, Black Panther is okay. Thor: Ragnarok serves better as a popcorn movie. But, being familiar with Ryan Coogler’s previous work, I wasn’t expecting this to be a action-filled blockbuster. I went in expecting him to have some profound things to say. And I thought he did have a lot of interesting things to say.
1. I am very used to watching Euro-centric fantasy. So getting to see an Afro-centric fantasy that was markedly difference was a strange and refreshing experience. Black Panther falls under this niche genre of Afro-futurism, one of the aspects of which is to imagine what Africa could have been without the influence of colonialism. This, I thought, made for a great genre for speculation and world-building. And the world of Wakanda, with its 5 tribes with their distinct cultures and clothes and customs, was a vivid and immersive experience.
2. A lot of the weight of the movie comes from the fact that it is from an African perspective rather than an American one. Imagine what the story might have been like from an American perspective. Say, five years ago, if you heard we were going to get a fantasy story set in Africa told from an American perspective (but let’s say it wasn’t based on the Black Panther comics), you might expect something like this: An African American kid from the inner city learns that his father was a prince from a technologically advanced African nation that stays hidden from the world. He trains himself to become strong and then travels there. he makes a challenge from the throne. And when he becomes king, he vows to fight against the oppression that black people face all over the world. Sounds like an inspirational fantasy, no? Except that’s not what it feels like to all those other countries who are not the USA. At the end of the day, Erik Killmonger is an American go goes into an African nation and overthrows the government. Like America does. Like America has done. America is not viewed as a hero across the globe.
3. After his experiences with Killmonger, King T’Challa is forced to consider his priviledge and he wonders whether he has a responsibility to use his knowledge and wealth to help the poor, the downtrodden, the refugees. What a powerful way for Ryan Coogler to speak directly to the most powerful nations of our world. (There is also a little but of commentary on how present-day Africans, especially the ones who are wealthy and priviledged, often look down upon and do not sympathize at all with the plight of those of African descent in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean. It hardly ever gets talked about, but it happens.)
4. Lastly, this movie had the best representation of women I have ever seen in any fantasy. You have 4 prominent female roles and they are each allowed to be different. They each have their own ideas, own views, beliefs, and convictions, and their own sense of purpose. They are similar in some ways and different in others. Some of them represent the traditional side of Wakanda and some of them represent the progressive side and their interactions reflects the struggle Wakanda faces in balancing the two. Each of them – Shuri, Okoye, the queen mother, and Nakia are fully fleshed out characters. And because there are so many of them, the female representation does not come down to only one person who then gets picked apart. Becaue there’s four them, they each get to be different and diverse.
I understand that to most audiences, these reasons above aren’t why they go to the movies. And so it’s completely understable why all of this commentary doesn’t factor in to their enjoyment of the film. I happen to be part of that group of audiences who enjoy the heck out of commentary, especially when it is doen masterfully and about a topic that appeals to me. That’s why the movie had such a big impact on me.