A superhero movie redefined by empowerment
On a high-tech jet speeding over an African forest, Okoye (Danai Gurira) issues a warning. “Don’t freeze,” she says to King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of the African nation of Wakanda. “I never freeze,” the leader replies calmly, playfully offended by the notion. T’Challa places the mask of Black Panther over his face and drops from the jet, falling toward his mission with confidence.
This calm and collected king, with a dynamic personality, is the superhero many have been waiting for. “Black Panther” is not only revolutionary, being the first Marvel movie to have a dominantly black cast, but it also includes strong a representation of these characters, both men and women.
T’Challa is a powerful and inspiring individual, often relying on his support system for help and guidance. This support system is comprised of his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose technological inventions transcend Tony Stark’s with ease; the members of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s special forces unit (comprised of bad-ass women); Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the king’s ex-girlfriend and an undercover agent for the nation; and other leaders, including his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett).
We first witnessed T’Challa as Black Panther in Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” The film “Black Panther” picks up almost immediately where his storyline in “Civil War” left off: T’Challa has returned to Wakanda in order to claim the throne as king and protect his country as the Black Panther.
In order to become king, T’Challa first attends a ceremony in which he accepts a physical challenge from anyone who dares to desire the throne. T’Challa fights with the absence of the Black Panther strength, and wins the fight in front of the entire country, showing humility when giving his challenger mercy. From here, T’Challa’s emotional and physical journey grows more complex as he discovers his style of leadership.
T’Challa faces his country’s traditions and history, travelling to Korea at one point with a select team to capture Klaw (Andrew Serkis), a white terrorist who stole vibranium (a technologically advanced metal) from Wakanda, killing many citizens in his escape. It is on this mission that Black Panther first proves his strength, smarts and pure excellence.
Many action scenes in the film were brilliant, not only because of the riveting fight sequences, backed by an incredible soundtrack, but also because audiences were able to see black women celebrated for scientific achievements and easily navigating difficult fights. The movie features a number of strong black women both physically and emotionally. They define their strength on their own terms: rooted in themselves, not in anger or pain.
Another thing that sets “Black Panther” apart from other movies is the culture of Wakanda. Unlike other Marvel offerings, “Black Panther” is set in a place that is unknown to the audience. To build Wakanda, the movie draws on African culture and influence in music, clothing, values and ceremony. More importantly, it celebrates African culture in a vibrant way. Black culture and excellence are not watered down, instead they are beautifully complex.
Refreshingly, conversations of racial tension are not ignored in this film. In fact, the movie allows for dialogues to occur away from the screen. Racism and racial issues are delved into in many different ways, with slavery, discrimination and problems associated with identity. For example, the antagonist of the film, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is an African-American that grew up on the streets in California after his father dies. Through the film, Killmonger struggles to connect to his African roots while also identifying as an American.
The film touches upon many different issues that Africans and African-Americans face today, while still connecting to the overall storyline. In this way, “Black Panther” not only highlights black excellence, but it doesn’t shy away from discussing black struggles as well. The narrative embraces diversity and African culture, while carrying out a message of strength, determination and most importantly, humanity.
Not only is the film diverse and detailed, but the character of Black Panther is easily the most complex Marvel superhero to date, both emotionally and historically. The representation in this film is the most in-depth and positive I’ve seen from a Marvel movie. One can only hope that Marvel and other creators will continue this type of representation outside of “Black Panther.”