Jungle
Black Panther

I have been awaiting Black Panther for a solid two years. When the incredible cast and director Ryan Coogler, were first announced in May 2016, #BlackPantherSoLit took twitter by storm and I knew this was going to be something very special. I immediately sent my editor a fervent email to make my interest known.

 

I still remember getting the notifications when the teaser trailer dropped. I had just pulled into my driveway, legs swung outside of the door as I paused life and clicked ‘play’. Witnessing the scenes brimming with thrilling action and beautiful costumes layered over the percussive beats of Legend Has It by Run the Jewels was more than I had anticipated (and I was anticipating quite a lot). As the title words sparkled over the lyrics “step into the spotlight”, I screamed with joy and immediately sent my editor another email.

 

Black Twitter reflected my enthusiasm back to me by compulsively meme-ing the joyous anticipation. A Black Panther Order of Service was created, complete with a Swag Surf benediction.  Fans began discussing what they would wear to opening weekend and how they would make their entrance.  With each trailer, photoshoot, and clip that dropped, hashtags trended and the memes surged.

 

When the tickets became available for purchase the fervor became more tangible as Black Panther sold more tickets than any other superhero movie in history. Part of that story involves giving back via the #BlackPantherChallenge. Spanning over 15 countries the #BlackPantherChallenge GoFundMe asks people to raise money for kids of color and underprivileged children to see the film.

 

And as the years have dwindled to days, fans are tweeting their passion and hope for the film via #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe, sharing their strong emotions and powerful stories. Although there have been previous Black superhero films, this is the first with the generous budget of the MCU behind it.  

 

We are treated to a superhero and king of  Wakanda, an uncolonized African country in possession of the most valuable element on Earth, Vibranium.  To protect themselves, Wakanda has adhered to a very strict isolationist policy. They present themselves to the world under a front of agricultural poverty without any diplomats and go so far as to hide their wealth with an invisibility cloak over the city center.

 

Unlike his fellow royal, Thor, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)  is thoroughly human and so are his problems.  Picking up a week after the murder of his father T’Chaka, T’Challa runs a gauntlet of emotions and anxieties over becoming the new leader of his people and their protector as the Black Panther.  He faces challenges from tribes within Wakanda, chickens coming home to roost in the shape of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), all while working alongside his ex Nakia (Lupita Nyongo), whom he still fancies.  A serious man, T’Challa is never the joker we’ve seen Thor become. Chadwick Boseman gives a stoic, yet flexible performance.

 

Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is a complicated villain with a pathos that is incredibly easy to sympathize with. His desire for Wakanda to share the wealth comes from a place so righteous and real, it’s hard to root against him. He is just as serious as T’Challa, though more unexpectedly funny, making his humanity hard to deny, and his purpose is worthy, but it is his praxis where he falters.

 

Further and most necessary, we are presented with positive representations of dark skinned Black women. They are shown as being integral, powerful, royal, intelligent, motivated, adored, and as love interests; adjectives that when applied to Black women are almost exclusively bestowed onto lighter skinned Black women with loosely curled hair. Deliciously & shadily, there is a character fitting this description in the film, but as a villain.

 

The women in this film are dynamic. Nakia is passionate fighter in her own right who challenges T’Challa to open the borders and provide aid to the countries around them. It is easy to see how Okoye (Danai Gurira) inspires loyalty as the fierce, intelligent, and charming leader of the king’s guard, the Dora Milaje (the Adored Ones). Angela Bassett is Queen Mother Romanda, who fears for her son and her country, but never gives up on either, and who,  in her cloud white locs, looks like the Storm of everyone’s dreams. Letitia Wright as Shuri, the royal princess, lead scientist/inventor, and smartest person in the MCU is a revelation. She is a true delight in every scene, and her sibling relationship with T’Challa feels effortless and true.

 

The action scenes were were breathlessly electric. Each built on the previous, making the stakes feel so high that you could never really be sure who would win. Even considering the likelihood of the sequel options in Boseman's contract and the film being named for his character, the movie still managed to make me unsure who would win the climactic fights. The tumbles were given heft thanks to the soaring symphonic score or a bombastic beat chosen by Kendrick Lamar. The CGI does become rickety when it comes to Erik & T’Challa’s last battle, but that is almost a hallmark of Marvel films. The true victory of CGI is when you don’t notice its usage and for this to be the only place where it wobbles isn’t a major turn off.

 

When celebrities on the red carpet were asked about their enthusiasm for Black Panther I repeatedly heard about the hopes and thirst for this positive representation. Black Panther is the first MCU film to be on the cover of Time Magazine. Why? Because this is truly a moment of kismet.  I have seen some say “it’s just a film,” but while a film may not change the world overnight it can change the world within us and empower us to, in turn, change the world we see. That is were the true superpower is found.

Maria Jackson
Review by Maria Jackson
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