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.