My Thoughts On Black Panther

My spoiler free reflection on the most important Superhero movie ever.

After seeing Black Panther for the first (but certainly not the last) time last night I was struck by how appropriate this film is for this moment in time. The black power fantasy of an African nation untouched by European colonization and therefore able to thrive as the most technologically advanced nation on our Earth is revolutionary based on its premise alone. But that is the story we comic book nerds have been reading for decades. It’s a powerful story in print but to see it played out on the big screen is like nothing I could have imagined.

In many ways Black Panther shares so much DNA with other Marvel Studios films. This is definitely the same world created in Iron Man and The Avengers. But in so many other ways this is something I have never witnessed before. Black people almost exclusively dominate every single minute of the screen and yet it’s a superhero story for everyone. People who love movies whether they are Black, Latino, Asian or other will have to concede that you can’t expect to go all year long without seeing one movie that is almost exclusively about white men saving the world. Black Panther foretells the day when people who love movies concede that you won’t be able to go a year, or 6 months, or one month without one movie dominated by a cast of color in any or all genres.

The movie itself hits the right beats for an action movie but it also grapples with the moral conundrum of responsibility for a nation versus responsibility to all of the world’s oppressed people. This is the first Marvel movie where I kind of agree with the bad guy. This movie raises complex questions about black revolution, isolationism, racism and human suffering but doesn’t ram any lessons down your throat. Overall the film knows where its responsibility lies so for those seeking deeper analyzation of what the implications of a place like Wakanda would mean in the real world the film starts the conversation but makes no attempt to finish it.

Without getting into spoilers I will say that Black Panther supersedes the hype train. Performances from Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo and especially Michael B. Jordan encapsulate a who’s who’s of the next generation of Black Hollywood. (Seriously the only people missing are Donald Glover, Tessa Thomposn and John Boyega). The director manages to convey the scope of the world of Wakanda and inch the Marvel Universe one step closer towards its next climax this summer. As one reviewer put it the movie manages to do what these superhero movies are supposed to do while also managing the burden of showcasing black excellence.  In some ways that’s the perfect metaphor for the black experience not just in America but globally.

If you stick around for the first post credit scene you’ll hear a message written loud and clear to confront the times we live in. Some may view this as a Disneyfied dumbing down of the Resistance. But in Trump’s America we have to take these messages and sow them into the imaginations of children. There is a vacuum at the top of the moral universe if only there was really a T’Challa to fill it.

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Book Of The Month: Black Panther

What I notice immediately near the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ iteration of Black Panther was that this wasn’t a hard reboot of the character. While this may be counterintuitive for non-comic book readers nowadays when Marvel starts with a number 1 issue we start with a story that’s pretty much already in progress. I had not read a Black Panther comic in about 10 years so I was pretty unfamiliar with where the character was in the context of the current Marvel Universe timeline.

Coates does a great job getting you up to speed. T’Challa is currently the King of Wakanda (there have been times in the continuum where he has abdicated the throne or otherwise been usurped either by a family member, friend, or foe) and his sister (who has ruled as Queen at some point) is currently in the spirit world. The head of his royal guard (an all-female elite fighting force known as the Dora Milaje) has gone rogue to free her lover who was about to be executed for treason. If you read any online critiques of comic books you’ll know that Marvel’s books have had more success with diversity than its Cinematic Universe. But the film universe’s introduction of Black Panther is probably the main reason this book exists right now. That the editors at Marvel had the idea to get respected Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates to try his hand at the complicated mythology of Wakanda is a gift for the significant overlap in their two fan-bases. This is not to say that everyone who reads Coates grew up as a Black Panther fan. But if you are the type of person that follows a writer like Coates and a comic book fan there is a chance that you fall in that sector on the Venn Diagram.

Coates background as a poet serves him well in this endeavor. While expectations may be unreasonably high, Marvel fans are typically used to the interweaving story arcs in comic books. Coates here is threading the needle with three separate character arcs. We follow the rebel Dora Milaje lovers ( whose very existence is making a statement denouncing homophobia) as they free women and children from modern slavery, there is also the Panther’s sister Shuri as she continues her journey through and eventually out of the spirit world and of course there is the main event T’Challa himself as he stamps out the last seeds of rebellion and attempts to make amends to a citizenry that is understandably skeptical because of recent government sanctioned atrocities.

Over the first year and a half of Coates run we’ve seen the Black Panther universe expand to three books and then contract back to one. If you are looking for consistency stick with the main story told by Coates. In it he grapples with the concept of a benign monarchy and the unifying power of an external threat. He doesn’t have to go out of his way to weave political statements into the narrative as Black Panther’s very existence is a political statement. Hopefully the spotlight shined on T’Challa by this Friday’s major film release will see this book get the props it deserves.