This post contains spoilers for the movie Black Panther. If you do not want spoilers, do not read this post.
Many of us saw Black Panther and cannot contain ourselves any longer. The movie gave us a lot of feelings and we have many thoughts about it.
Black Panther gave me a similar feeling I had when I first saw Hamilton: an overwhelming sense of pride and emotion seeing all that Black excellence in one place. I am especially emotional about the portrayal of women, where Black women were allowed to have depth and variance while they filled multiple roles. I won’t lie, I’m upset about the queer-erasure of Ayo’s and Aneka’s relationship because it is so important to see strong queer characters and for those of us who have read and loved Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda, it was a disappointment. I would have liked them to be included. I appreciated Killmonger’s antihero. It was an echo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X. An echo of Professor Charles Xavier vs. Magneto. I did not agree with Killmonger’s strategy, but he was a product of the white supremacist society in which he grew up. His tactics were directly influenced by this society. He even said it in the very first scene where we see him, when he is talking to the museum curator about how she “acquired” the vibranium artifact and that he was going to acquire it in the same manner. It was his last line that haunts me. “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped ship because they knew that death was better than bondage.” This. This was one of the many things that made this movie so much more than another superhero movie. This movie means something.
Never once during Black Panther did we have to watch a man tell a woman she was incompetent or unable to complete a task, from scientific research to leading troops in war. Never once did a man tell a woman he was doing something “for her own protection” or “her own good.” Never once did a woman compromise her ideals (“Would you kill me, my love?” “For Wakanda? Without hesitation.”) even if it put her at odds with her lover or a dear friend. They do speak to each other about male characters, yes. And they also speak to one another about science. About politics. About difficult emotions. Duty. Honor. They err, they learn. They take up space in their world and they do it unapologetically and together. They are asked for their opinions. They give them and those opinions are heeded. Would any one dare “Well, actually” Shuri? Nakia? Okoye? Ramonda? I think not. Can’t wait to see it again.
Black Panther was astonishing. I think analysis of its (complex, intelligent) politics and celebration of its (joyous, multifaceted) depiction of the African diaspora more rightfully sit with the black viewers who have been represented so wonderfully on screen, but I will talk about a moment in the theater that stunned and delighted me: during the climax, when Everett Ross kept asking, “Shuri, what do I do?” I’ve never seen that in a movie before: a middle-aged white man asking for military and technological directives from a black teenage girl! Too often, women in movies possess expertise only in order to pass it on to the White Dude Hero during a second act training montage, and teenage girls never possess it at all. But Shuri retains her authority and centrality even during Ross’s hero moment, which exists only to wrap up loose ends and buttress Shuri’s brilliance. It’s a perfect microcosm of how Black Panther re-centers black lives and expertise and moves the few white characters to the underwritten support roles that POC (and teenage girls of any race) are usually expected to fill. I loved it almost as much as I loved Shuri herself. (Just kidding. I don’t love anything as much as I love Shuri.)
Black Panther was the best written and thought-out film we’ve seen out of Marvel and out of the most-recent D.C. reboots of the Justice League. I am in love with everyone in it (but especially Princess Shuri). It’s been said multiple times above, but I’ll say it again: this film has just as many complex women as men; it leverages those women and gives them the complex moments, motivations, and action they deserve; it has the best battle scene featuring women warriors (or any warriors) I’ve ever had the pleasure to see; and the women were given every single thing the men were, from their ability to be stubborn to their genius to their emotional struggles. What a gorgeous movie. It takes this genre to places we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it go before, it shows us the potential that our future superhero films have but are unlikely to rise to. We saw it Saturday afternoon, and by that night, my boyfriend and I wanted to go see it again. Brilliant.
Black Panther is, without a doubt, the most complex, interesting, and culturally relevant Marvel movie we’ve seen to date. Getting to see a SFF film (particularly a big budget Marvel movie) based on African culture, with a predominantly black cast, and written and directed by black men? Absolutely amazing. It also boasts the most multifaceted and complicated villain I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Killmonger wasn’t just trying to conquer or destroy. He did plenty of both, sure, but he had actual motivations. He had reasons for his actions that—even while we were rooting against him in his fight against T’Challa—sometimes made us question the choices and actions of the “good guys,” as well. My dad, coming out of the movie, said, “I’m not really sure we can even call him [Killmonger] the villain.” Well, his methods are certainly corrupt, but the point stands that he was created by a culture of oppression and racism. Even if he went about it in all the wrong ways, I don’t think you could leave the movie hating him or thinking that he didn’t make some valid points along the way.
And you know what else struck me? There are more fully developed female characters than any other superhero movie I can think of (yes, even Wonder Woman). Most movies, superhero or otherwise, have one female character and maybe a smattering of others who get barely any screen time or development. But in Black Panther, we got not one, not two, not three, but four complex, independent, interesting female characters who were given substantial screen time throughout the film. (I know pretty much everyone has mentioned this already, but maybe that’s telling, too? That we’re all so excited about finally getting more than just a couple of female characters to root for that we can’t contain our excitement.) And my love for Nakia, Okoye, Shuri, and Ramonda is unending.
So…when are we going to get our Dora Milaje movie, Marvel?
First, I am so happy to see a character like Shuri in a Marvel film, a little sister who is cool. I am a middle child, and I am not cool. That rep means a lot more, and later on I’ll draft my full thoughts on it. Second, it’s hard to choose a favorite between Shuri and M’Baku. M’Baku surprised me. You think he appears as a stick in the mud about tradition. Then he goes above and beyond sacred hospitality to save T’Challa, and host his deposed family. With Shuri, you have a role model, a kid who UNLIKE Wanda Maximoff didn’t cause mass destruction to avenge her parents, and a good little sister. Also it’s hinted that she could be an awesome gamer, given how she designed technology in the lab. I want Shuri to start a Let’s Play channel. The more serious themes, of colonialism, exploitation and complicity, were handled with finesse. T’Challa knows that revealing himself to the world has a price. He also knows you can’t turn your back on people who need you. Otherwise karma will hit, and you can lose everything by refusing to change tradition. Now I want Shuri to tell off Tony for abandoning Peter and take Spider-Man under her wing. Peter Parker has totally earned a Wakanda semester abroad. Also, I want to steal Michael B. Jordan’s art student look, glasses and all.
The night we went to see Black Panther, there was a child in our row with a Black Panther mask that he wore the entire time. At the end of the movie he took off his mask and was all smiles. This film has meant so much to so many communities it is hard to express. I’m not Black, but I grew up and live in South Florida which has a wonderfully diverse community. How wonderful it was to see faces on screen that look like the faces of my friends, neighbors, teachers, loved ones. And to have seen that done in a way that imagined a world of Blackness that had not (mostly) held the scars of colonialism, enslavement and racism; how a people can be when unrestrained by a legacy of inequality is a dream worth making real. The film was visually stunning and pure joy. My hope that this continues a movement because I want every child to have a smile like that child’s smile. I hope to be there when it happens. Wakanda Forever.