Black Panther Pounces on Prejudice

Movie Review: Black Panther

Hollywood dons its first pair of progressive lenses with Ryan Coogler’s fiercely entertaining rewrite of superhero stereotype that helps correct old vision problems

Black Panther

5/5

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Running time: 2 hrs 14 mins

Rating: Parental Guidance

By Katherine Monk

Well Hollywood, congratulations on donning your first pair of progressives. First we got to see from the other eye of gender with Wonder Woman, and now, we’re finally given a clear vision of a fully fledged comic book hero from the heart of Africa.

It took far too long, but it was worth the wait, because like Wonder Woman, Black Panther isn’t just a complete re-ordering of the muscular white male status quo. It’s also a fantastic film.

Is it perfect? No. The film suffers from the same problems that plague most comic book fantasies: Emotions are distilled into high-contrast love and hate, characters never feel truly relatable as a result of their superpowers, and the complexities of the human condition are compressed into short, predictably punchy speeches.

That’s the way the genre works. In this case, it’s actually an advantage because it proves the superhero formula can transcend any race, religious or even species boundary. It’s cinema that’s faster than a speeding bullet of hate, more powerful than a locomotive of oppression and able to leap tall piles of Donald Trump B.S. in a single bound.

Black Panther is the percussion blast we all need right now, so tip your hat to Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), the director and co-writer of a modern classic that addresses the deep fault lines in American society without compromising action movie fundamentals.

In fact, the action may be what gives Coogler such leeway because it’s a huge distraction from the deeper issue of African-American identity, which is the deep vein that gives Black Panther its diamond claws.

Opening in Oakland, California some 20 odd years ago, Black Panther introduces us to its titular character in the opening scene. While two men make plans for some criminal act involving firearms, an African king appears out of nowhere to remind them of who they are, and why they should never resort to violence.

In fact, the action may be what gives Coogler such leeway because it’s a huge distraction from the deeper issue of African-American identity, which is the deep vein that gives Black Panther its diamond claws.

They resist, the king responds and before you know it, we’re watching a young prince named T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) be crowned the new king of Wakanda, and given the superhuman abilities of The Black Panther — just like his father before him.

The potent secret lies in a special flower that only grows in Wakanda, an African nation that also happens to have the worlds largest supply of vibranium — a rare earth element that has the power to create the world’s most powerful weapons.

For eons, the Wakandans denied the existence of huge vibranium reserves in their homeland. Yet, they’ve created a huge, futuristic city with their resources — and successfully hidden it from the entire world.

In this universe, a small African nation is the most advanced culture on the planet — home to space age vehicles, futuristic weapons and a fully educated population. Yet, because the people of Wakanda fear war over their resources, their advanced culture remains a secret. As a result, their African neighbours, as well as black people all over the world, remain oppressed.

For a kid living in Oakland, California, Wakanda’s big secret becomes a life obsession. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) watched a strange blue light fly over the projects the night his father was killed. He discovered his family had a connection to a magical world, and that he, too, had Wakandan roots.

Eager to reclaim his own history, and his own traditions, Killmonger researches Wakandan artifacts and eventually learns enough to challenge T’Challa for the Wakandan throne. His goal is to emancipate and empower black people all over the world using advanced Wakandan technology, but also to reap revenge and kill the oppressor.

Black Panther Boseman Jordan

Two Kings: Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan face off in Black Panther.

It’s fun to watch the whole universe turned upside down, and Coogler successfully pulls it off by ensuring all the small, token roles and significant sidekicks are played by white people (Martin Freeman). There’s a white foe with a South African accent, as well, thanks to Andy Serkis. But the key parts, and the central drama unfolds within Wakanda, where one black prince must face off against another.

By keeping the central plots concentrated in this magical landscape, and by keeping the cultural references rooted in African imagery, Black Panther quietly — but forcefully — reaffirms the subversive message originally delivered by raising a clenched fist.

By keeping the central plots concentrated in this magical landscape, and by keeping the cultural references rooted in African imagery, Black Panther quietly — but forcefully — reaffirms the subversive message originally delivered by raising a clenched fist.

The imagery terrified white power, but Marvel Comics embraced this alternate point of view back in 1966, shortly after activists Bobby Seale and Huey Newton first formed the Black Panther Party to police the police in Oakland.

Coogler brings us full-circle and fuses the two Black Panther ideas together in the opening scene by taking us back to the projects in Oakland. Yet, for all the inherent rage spurred by injustice, Coogler refuses to celebrate violence.

He gives voice to the oppressed and offers a good reason for wholesale slaughter, yet the dimensions and the qualities of a true hero remain the same: Peace over violence, compassion over paranoia, love over hate.

The comic universe may look upside-down, but the lines are drawn in the same place, proving you can be revolutionary without setting the whole book ablaze.

@katherinemonk

 

THE EX-PRESS, February 16, 2018

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Review: Black Panther

User Rating

5 (16 Votes)

Summary

Well Hollywood, congratulations on donning your first pair of progressives. First we got to see from the other eye of gender with Wonder Woman, and now, we’re finally given a clear vision of a fully fledged comic book hero from the heart of Africa. It took far too long, but it was worth the wait, because like Wonder Woman, Black Panther isn’t just a complete re-ordering of the muscular white male status quo. It’s also a fantastic film that lives up to superhero expectation while punching through the envelope of stereotype. -- Katherine Monk

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