For Conscious Nerds: When the Television Revolution is Not Enough (or My Review/Love Letter to Black Panther)
This was the battle cry that has been heard around the world since Black Panther debuted in theaters and the world has not been the same since. This is what fans all over the globe have come to realize that we now see the “normalization” of the superhero genre, that all of us can be heroes, and it is not quite monochromatic as Hollywood would make us believe.
As nerds of color, much like our brothers and sisters, we have yet to see a hero that feels like they belong to us, until NOW.
In the past year, the rise of Black Lives Matter due to the rise of hate crimes, unjust police killings, and devaluation of black bodies has been felt everywhere, so as good art does, it starts to reflect what has happened in the world. This reality has been seen in docu-series such as Time: The Kalief Browder Story and Strong Island. Then, shows like Shots Fired and the recently released Netflix series Seven Seconds has further enforced why people of color feel like they are the target as their lives are constantly prescribed to their surroundings. This is where children of color, like other kids, had to find superheroes who they could identify with and for the longest time, most of us has had to find the altruistic values which echo who we are.
For me, it has been, Batman, who I saw on Superfriends, as I fancied myself smart and I wanted to be rich, maybe one day, but life made sure to let me know that I am not white, and I will never have the same privileges. This finding of heroes like me changed when my Dad introduced me to comics, which is when I found the world to not be so monochromatic, but a kaleidoscope of funk, as I found Power Man, Black Panther, Black Lightning, Turok The Dinosaur Hunter, and many more which are still part of my cherished pull boxes and of course, it became even more blessed when Milestone Comics came on the scene . As I grew older, there were variations on the Black superhero no television and in the movies, but none that any of us would love to dress up as, until Blade made a splash back in the 1990s. Since then, it has become quite monochromatic once again, with the sprinklings here and there, like Falcon or War Machine in The Avengers movies, but not one with them headlining.
Television has been more progressive in that sense, showing prominent storylines and featuring regular characters occupied by actors in shows like Arrow, Runaways, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Smallville, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That is why shows like Luke Cage and Black Lightning are so important, both shows very different than every other genre show from their respective studios, and each embodying the culture from which their character is from, from the music, the sights and their villains, as the days of making the black version of something, has for the most part come to a close and these characters silver screen portrayals showcase superheroes that feel and look like us.
This is why when it was first announced that Black Panther was going to have his own movie, I had my doubts since John Singleton and Wesley Snipes tried to travel this road back in the 1990s but when I heard they were getting Ryan Coogler, who directed one of my favorite movies Fruitvale Station, I had a feeling it was in good hands. The main thing I wanted to know is how they will bring Wakanda to life, so when the trailers started to hit the internet, as this rendering (below) is what felt the nation would look like, but the vision that Coogler ended up putting on the screen, exceeded my expectations
Which reminded of a book I read about Timbuktu and its king, Mansa Musa who was thought of be the richest man in the world. Then there is the look of the costumes:
Each costume pulled from tribes across the continent of Africa: Zulu, Masai, Himba, Mursi, Surma, Igbo, Basotho, Yoruba, Ndebeleh, and Touareg tribes. The filmmakers did not only stop there they infused the Wakandan language with two different mother tongues, Xhosa is a Nguni Bantu language with click consonants and one of the official languages of South Africa, which was the spoken Wakandan language but the written Wakandan language was Nsibidi which were used by the Igbo peoples, and all the actors made it sound cool. This leads me to the stars of the movie, primarily, the women, who are the strength of the movie.
The character of Nakia, as played by Lupita Nyongo, whose character became the villain known as Malice in the comics as her advances to T’Challa proved to be unsuccessful, but in the movie she still has his heart. Then there is Okoye, as acted by Danai Gurira, who proves to be T’Challa’s right hand which is equal to what she is in the comic books. The character of Ayo as played by Florence Kasumba made her presence known in Captain America: Civil War. Here she still caries gravitas but I am one of those disappointed comic book fans who had hoped her storyline form World of Wakanda would have carried over. The legendary Angela Bassett of course plays Ramonda who is T’Challa and Shuri’s mother in the movie. In the comic books she was a stepmother to T’Challa and T’Chaka’s third wife. Lastly, clearly the breakout star of the movie, Letitia Wright who plays Shuri is not only T’Challa’s sister, but she acts as Q to T’Challa’s James Bond. in the comics she eventually takes over the mantle of Black Panther.
Now let us get to the men, let me start with Ulysses Klaue, who doesn’t resemble his character at all, as played by Andy Serkis. His arm cannon comes close what he has in the comics and feels like a nod. Then there is Agent Ross, as played by the brilliant Martin Freeman. In an average movie his character would have played the “white savior”, but as can be seen throughout the movie, he was the one needing saving. M’Baku silenced him in his court but he did end up using pilot skills to shoot down the plans carrying weapons. The character of T’Chaka, as played by John Kani and Attandwa Kani (yes they are father and son) although dead , looms large throughout the film, for a reason I will get to in a minute Then there is the character of N’Jobu as played by Sterling K Brown, brother of T’Chaka , probably replacing Siya in the comics, who held the title after T’Chaka. This version betrays Wakanda as he sees their seclusion as overprotective and his death drives Killmonger to his returning to Wakanda. The character of W’Kabi as played by Daniel Kaluya serves as T’Challa’s best friend and in charge of National Defense, much like in the comics. Zuri, played by Forrest Whittaker serves the same purpose in the comics but looks vastly different than he does in canon., and plays a huge part to the plot. M’Baku as played by Winston Duke is largely different from how he is portrayed in the comics, as most fans know his “Man-Ape”, which is racially insensitive and connected to ethnic slurs, but his portrayal here is probably one of the most balanced in the film.
Eric Killmonger as portrayed by Michael B. Jordan looks vastly different from his character in the comics but is probably the best villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever seen as the reasons why he is so good because he was complicated. His intentions were not of his own self-interests but to empower indigenous peoples around the world, in New York, Hong Kong, London, which incidentally are the same places Doctor Strange has sanctums. Therefore, I feel he really is an antagonist, one who likes to see better results but takes extreme measures to get there, which underscores the rise of oligarchs around the world, one where their extreme measures cause power shifts.
Lastly, there is T’Challa as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman whose nonverbal acting and poise made him the perfect actor to take on the mantle and undergoes the hero’s journey as he leaned on the end of T’Chaka about keeping their borders as he says in the end scene” the wise build bridges, the foolish build barriers”.
Now let’s get to the major themes, as the plotline is tied to one lie, one which T’Chaka, Zuri and N’Jobu are all tied to, one in which one of them dies, and this is the reason Killmonger comes to Wakanda to take the throne, shows that lies have long lasting effects. This film also talk of the differences between Africans and African Americans, as no line speaks volumes to difference in ideologies , when he said “bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped ship, because they knew death was better than bondage”, as the difference between Eric and T’Challa, is one watching black lives being diminished by the lack of access to power, money and technology like herein America while some parts of Africa have flourished better. This movie more than proves to the world that movies having most people of color can make money if it is good. The other thing about the movie is this is one the few MCU movies which are self-contained, as you don’t see another character, except for Bucky, in the final post-credits scene. Lastly, the reception the movie got before audiences even watched the movie was powerful, as either they cosplayed or dressed in African Dashikis or other African clothing, to express their love for the movie, as can be seen below:
The movie was simply fantastic, the best movie I have seen this year, and best movie to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and one I will watch again. Until then I am booking my flight to Wakanda.