I had the pleasure of viewing Disney’s Black Panther on the day of its release in the UK, and since then it’s been reported that this Marvel production has shattered box office records in the UK and overseas. According to the Guardian, Black Panther brought in a record breaking £2.67 million on it’s opening day; Disney added that this was also the highest-grossing single day at the UK box office.
Whilst Black Panther has proved to be a massive win for Disney in terms of numbers, it has also been a massive win for its director Ryan Coogler, and the black community worldwide. Below I will explore the greatness of this film, and provide a few of the reasons as to why it is my number one Marvel film of all time.
Firstly I’d like to make reference to its predominantly black cast, but also note that this isn’t the deciding factor in my overall opinion of the film. We have previously seen black superheroes in Marvel with characters such as Luke Cage and Storm, but it has to be admitted that none have been quite as impactful as those within this film. With the Black Panther (T’Challa) being the protagonist of the film, he stands as the obvious superhero as he takes the crown of King and becomes ultimate protector for his nation Wakanda following his father’s death. Throughout the film, it is clear that he has a genuine desire to do what’s right morally, but has little desire to risk Wakanda’s resources to do so. On the other side of this, running a close second for the superhero title is Erik Killmonger (T’Challa’s cousin) who has
been branded as the sympathetic villain. Owing to the tragic loss of his father at such a young age, we instantly sympathise with his character despite the fact that he has taken countless lives across the globe, all in the name of war. Whilst he distastefully treats this as a badge of honour, he does identify with other black people worldwide who have suffered in poverty and slavery, and it is these strong morals that make him difficult to hate. In the end, whether he’s your superhero of choice or not really boils down to whether you think that his motives to help black people worldwide are enough to justify the destruction of his own nation, or whether you feel he has become too consumed in hatred and bitterness to really do what’s best for his people.
Speaking of superheroes, we also see the very powerful representation of black African women throughout this film. Among large numbers of other women, Okoye (Danai Guiria’s character) leads the Dora Milaje which translates to the ‘adored ones,’ who are essentially an all-female military group who protect the King and Wakanda at all costs. They radiate beauty in the richness of their skin tones, and appear in their most natural form with the same thick, kinky, afro hair that society often frowns upon. (May I also take this moment to share how stunning Danai Guiria is – even without hair!) Everything from their outfits, created by Ruth E Carter, to their hairstyles are simply amazing. But did you notice how respected, trusted, and valued the women were? Following African history dating back to the 17th century, the fictional Dora Milaje are said to be based upon real life all-female military unit the Dahomey Amazons in Western Africa, who stopped at nothing to protect their King and their land in wars surrounding the transatlantic slave trade and French colonisers. They were said to have been one of the most fierce, devoted, and feared military units of modern history, and if this representation of them in Black Panther is anything to go by, we don’t doubt it.
Yet in the same way that women in the movie were portrayed as strong warriors, they were not restricted to performing just one role. Instead, we saw Angela Bassett’s character (T’Challa’s mother) respected as a Queen, whilst Shuri (T’Challa’s sister) was respected as an extremely intelligent, scientific mastermind. Then we had Nakia (T’Challa’s love interest in the film) played by Lupita Nyong’o who proved to be his shoulder to lean on and his source of emotional support in pivotal scenes. Her strength in the film also came from the fact that she was strong minded and sometimes quite stubborn in her approach, but this didn’t stop her fighting for him when it came down to the wire. For me, this all rounded perspective of females which shines through in all of the above is a major reason why this film ticks all of the boxes, and seems increasingly relevant to the current times where we are seeing the #MeToo movement, and daily reports of sexual abuse against women in our entertainment industries and largest worldwide corporations.
Now as we look at the content of the film and the promotion of its release, there are clear implications of the black elements within the script, the cast, and the messages within, yet I still feel that it would have been somewhat unjust for us to expect the film to be some sort of black history lesson. Having listened to people who felt that the movie could have included additional elements of factual black history, and those who chose not to support the movie because the overall production team wasn’t black-owned, I do have a few words. To be quite frank, I think it’s a shame that we can’t all recognise what a fantastic job Disney have done working alongside a very successful, young, black director on a project which holds so much weight in Hollywood. What they’ve created together has been magical, and what’s followed has been history. Secondly, yes Wakanda is a fictional place, and yes we are still shouting “Wakanda forever,” but isn’t it nice to see black unity and be able to go to the cinema and see black families dressed in their traditional attire posing next to the stands? Finally, in terms of the educational elements, Black Panther was always going to be a Marvel action movie so the expectation of outright black history may have been a stretch, but let’s agree that it did provide some great thinking points (even more than those that I have discussed in this piece.)
Moving slightly away from the representations of the film and the food for thought, the majority would agree that the film was aesthetically pleasing throughout its duration. With filming having taken place in the Marvel studios, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, South Korea and Argentina, the Disney production team and the film’s director Ryan Coogler spared no expenses to ensure that every moment of our viewing experience was an enjoyable one. In some cases, it was actually so enjoyable that people went to watch the film for a second time, and I can’t say that I’m far away from joining them.
For me, this Black Panther film is increasingly important because it provides so much food for thought whilst entertaining you; and it does so with some beautiful up-and-coming Kings and Queens alongside those that are already well celebrated. I definitely think it’s time that we started celebrating the positives, and for those that do want to support black rather than shouting about the fictional nature of Wakanda, please do visit some black businesses and show your support for the community that way. Let us always remember to use our energy wisely and celebrate the things that we love. Wakanda Forever? Black Power? A Female Revolution? You choose your portion.