Black Panther, Marvel’s record-shattering ode to black excellence and Afro-futurist storytelling, is an eye-opener for Hollywood and global cinema. It stars a fantastic roster of African-American and Black-British actors that includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, and Letitia Wright. Helmed by Ryan Coogler, who also directed Creed and Fruitvale Station (both of which also featured Jordan), Black Panther tells the story of the feline-inspired superhero, ruler, and protector of the tiny, secretive, fictional African nation of Wakanda, where centuries of vibranium-mining have led to social and technological advancements that have never before been seen by the rest of the world.
At the start, the titular hero, T’Challa (Boseman), returns home to Wakanda after the death of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani) in Captain America: Civil War. In his ascent to the throne, T’Challa faces challenges from external and internal forces while he decides on the future of his isolated nation and his own style of leadership. Luckily, he is surrounded by strong, intelligent, and fiercely loyal women, including his head bodyguard, General Okoye (Gurira); his tech whiz, teen sister Shuri (Wright); and his love interest Nakia (Nyong’o), a Wakandan spy. Together, they deal with threats to Wakanda’s power and peace, namely from the crazed and greedy arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and the ideology-destabilizing Erik Killmonger (Jordan) who desires to bring about a devastating revolution.
Far beyond being a bombastic, thrilling superhero movie set in a pan-African inspired new world, Black Panther takes on some heavy social themes and focuses on human stories. T’Challa and Wakanda’s main conflicts are about a tradition of isolationism and self-preservation in a world that is tearing itself apart. Wakanda has long remained hidden from the rest of the world due to global conflicts and a fear of letting their precious and infinitely useful vibranium fall into the wrong hands. However, after meeting the Avengers and hearing from Nakia about other struggling nations, T’Challa feels duelling responsibilities to his country and to the world. His understanding of tradition stems also from his relationship to his beloved father, who he visits in the astral plane after partaking in the Heart-Shaped Herb, the source of Black Panther’s powers.
Killmonger plays the other side of the coin as he challenges T’Challa’s right to rule and pushes Wakanda toward becoming a new colonial power, desiring to take over the world with Wakanda’s plentiful resources. As T’Challa’s abandoned cousin, Killmonger is an unusually complex and sympathetic villain. It is implied that he is forced to these extremes by the system he grew up in—America’s systemic racism and poverty, its long history of colonialism and slavery, and its military mindset—in contrast to the utopian Wakanda he could have grown up in—a place of beauty, riches, technological advancement, relative harmony, and black sovereignty. His radical views sway some Wakandans to his side, but the violence, destruction, and short-sightedness he brings clearly must be stopped. The solution that is offered at the end as T’Challa addresses the United Nations is far more practical: Wakanda gently opens itself up to the world through institutionalized programs and exchanges, reaching a compromise between tradition and change.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 4.6