Film Review: Black Panther (2018)
I will preface my review with this great comic by 澈(Che), which has easily become one of my favorite byproducts of this great film.
For those of you who haven’t jumped onto the catwagon that is Black Panther yet, what are you doing?? You need to jump on, strap on, and hold on tight for the deliriously amazing ride this film will take you on, both in the theater and out. This film’s made a huge cultural impact (obviously), broke records (duh), provided hella eye candy (not even just talking about the people here), and will have great generational impact for years to come.
Premiering ahead of President’s Day weekend (timely premiere amiright?), Black Panther has already soared through box-office records as the fifth-highest 3-day premiere of all time, as well as being the biggest debut by an African American director, Ryan Coogler. The film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, who I ran into at work, ahem) and his crew as they try to save Wakanda from enemy outsiders. Antagonists range from evil Klaue (Andy Serkis), vegetarian M’Baku (Winston Duke), snuggie-wearing W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and most notably Erik “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan, who loves anime). However, what’s important to note here, and what the film makes sure to point out, is the fact that the real enemy is white supremacy. T’Challa and Killmonger are posed as sort of mirror opposites of each other - the former holding the privileged position of prince, now King, of the isolationist Wakanda while the latter has dealt with the first-hand racism of being a black man in the United States. Both of their desires for the crown root from not just inherit birth but that they want to use royal power to either keep Wakanda safe from white imperialism (T’Challa) or destroy institutional white supremacy (Killmonger)*.
*white imperialism = white supremacy obvi
The primary battles are between these two very masculine men, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this film is carried entirely by amazing BLACK WOMEN. And there are so many amazing black female characters in this film, which brings up something interesting that Linda Holmes of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour has said in their latest podcast episode about the film. That is, the fact that when there are this many female characters in a movie like this, none of them have to bear the burden of being the sole representation of their (racial) identity. In comparison to Black Widow in the Avengers films, whose role has more or less been delegated to love interest/damsel in distress as the main female character, the women in Black Panther are plentiful and so they have the freedom to represent only their individual selves. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) can freely be T’Challa’s love interest (and even that plot line is tertiary to her role as wholesome philanthropist spy in the film though, which is awesome). Okoye, played by my mom’s new fav celebrity Danai Gurira, can freely inhabit the role of the bad-ass and passionate warrior leader of the Dora Milaje. Same goes for Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s queen mother. And Letitia Wright, as the nerdy genius, Coachella-loving memelord Shuri, has the freedom to be just that - a nerdy genius, Coachella-loving memelord - without having the burden of trying to represent all black girls.
In my mind, nearly every single aspect of this movie was ON POINT. It was absolutely a work of magnificent teamwork and direction - from cinematography (by the first women cinematographer nominated for Best Cinematography, Rachel Morrison) to story (co-written by Cooler and Joe Robert Cole) to acting (by a really star-studded cast) to MUSIC! Only for Kendrick Lamar and SZA will I sacrifice my four-month binge listen of BTS because the carefully crafted and curated Black Panther soundtrack is a STUNNER and the only thing I've been listening to for the last week. It’s listed as a rap album, and a striking one at that, but it feels even bigger, with amazing vocals ranging from SZA to The Weeknd to Jorja Smith to Anderson .Paak and more. It’s prophetic, powerful, and reflects the film oh, so well.
Can you believe that all of this came from a Marvel movie? This film is in the same line of films that includes the racist fail that was Doctor Strange! When you put together a group of mega talented and promising people of color, specifically black people in the case of Black Panther, what you get are astounding, record-shattering results! Marvel has already seen the winning potential of this (fairly obvious) strategy before, in placing Taika Waititi to direct Thor: Ragnarok. If Marvel wants to end their Marvel Cinematic Universe of TWENTY FOUR FILMS with a bang, they would be dumb not to follow their own example of Black Panther and hire more people of color.
P.S. The cast and crew of Black Panther did a press tour in South Korea and their finger hearts shot straight to my heart.