We’ve (finally!) all seen Black Panther. It’s amazing. Below, some reflections (and some spoilers):
Lucianne: My new life metric: “How will this thing I am doing look on my visa application to Wakanda?” (Maybe Shuri needs a janitor for her lab?) I have been so excited to see Black Panther, I bought my tickets for opening night as soon as I could — then I realized that opening night here was also the night of the new moon, so I had literally been watching the phase of the Moon to count down to see this movie. Yes, I am ridiculous– but come on, it didn’t disappoint! There’s a lot I could say about the film, and honestly I think a lot of those musings have been written about more intelligently in Black writers’ think-pieces following the release, so I’ll spare you my armchair film review and speak to what I found significant to me.
Something I’ve been thinking about in the context of this last week, where we’ve been focusing on Futurism, is how racism is, at its core, about the denial of a future. This idea was most literally true during slavery, when Black people were denied their very humanity and seen as property, tools. What is the future of an object? Aside from the myriad ways that the future has been denied to Black people — ranging from barriers to education to literal death — the way slavery took the future away from Black people by sidestepping their humanity has always seemed the most insidious to me. In Black Panther, we see the alternative timeline of a people who have always had a future: the Wakandans. With that future, they have surpassed the rest of the world, and done so in fundamentally novel ways that seamlessly blend tradition and history with futuristic technology. In Erik Killmonger, Black Panther further shows how white supremacy has limited the scope of people’s imagined future: Killmonger can only imagine a world that is free through the bloodshed and violence that he has lived in, can only imagine ruling Wakanda through the patriarchal autocracy of the outside world. And yet as a viewer who lives in Killmonger’s world, and not Wakanda, he is fundamentally a sympathetic villain — I definitely had my moments where I was like, you know maybe he should arm the entire African diaspora, we have it coming.
Also, I would like to buy literally everything Shuri wore in this movie. All of it. Take my money.
Lauren: ALL. THE. STRONG. WOMEN.
I echo Lulu’s sentiment that my armchair review isn’t necessary, and want to talk about what hit home. And god damn if it wasn’t the most beautiful thing to see all these badass women in different, complex roles. Not sex objects. Not victims. Not afterthoughts. I know Black Panther is a movie about, well, the Black Panther, but the women totally stole the show for me. Oh, what’s that? T’Chaka tells his son to surround himself with good people? CUE THE LADIES.
Shuri is the sarcastic, smart, tech princess I wish I could have grown up with. Suck it Q; suck it Tony Stark. Shuri is everything. What good is vibranium if you don’t have someone harnessing its powers to actually do cool things? Without Shuri, no cool Panther suits, no magnetic lev train scene, no remotely piloted vehicles, no comms devices. You want to get more young Black women interested in STEM? God. Bless. Shuri.
Then you’ve got Nakia, upset at her inconvenient “rescue” by T’Challa, dedicated to helping the outside world, but also, you know, leading a rebellion and kicking serious ass with her ring weapons (that I wanted to see more of). And Okoye. God damn, I love Okoye. In fact, all of the Dora Milaje. Black women warriors, working together. And all around the world, black women warriors are fighting for what’s right, making communities and the world a better place at the head of movements like Black Lives Matter.
There’s so much to love about this movie: the costumes and the color, the brilliant jokes (my favorite was M’Baku’s vegetarian line, closely followed by Shuri’s “challenge” for the throne), the world-building and integration of African culture and world history, the sympathetic antagonist, the sand animation in the credits, the war rhinos. (Hey, sometimes you just have to stop and appreciate war rhinos). But at the end of it all, I walked out of this movie rejoicing at the nuanced portrayal by Black actors of complex Black characters — particularly the women.
There’s a lot to be said about this film — one of my favorite in years, and one of the most meaningful for me as a Black man.
I knew I wouldn’t get to see it right away when it came out, so I just kept it in the back of my mind and didn’t hype myself up too much. It’s also been a messed up week and month for racial issues in my neck of the woods, and going into the theater I was a little worried that this would provoke emotions that I was too tired to deal with.
The opposite is what happened. I came out of this re-empowered, not from fanboy-ism, not from ideas of superpowers, but from my memories and from the community that I’m part of. I left the theater reminded of my past, the power of my ancestors, of my community, and of the futures that I have long imagined for myself.
I still need representation in the places where I (want to) see myself.
One of the most important elements of representation in this movie is the very basic reality that is set up. It is one in which the idea of colonization by whites across the world is taken as a well-understood, well-documented evil. In one comment from Princess Shuri, this bedrock principle, and thus the representational perspective of the film is solidified: when Martin Freeman’s character (a white dude) awakens and walks quietly over to her, she says, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” This was when I knew the film wanted to express a reality that Black people live and understand, one that is essentially foreign to the rest of America.
When watching some movies and or existing in some environments, I celebrate and enjoy myself with vocalizations, gestures, and moving around. We do that. I love doing that. It’s part of who I am. For BP, we were in a theater in the suburbs of Illinois, so it was mostly white folks in the theater. Though aware of this, I wasn’t negatively self-conscious about my hand-waving, sitting up in the seat, waving my hands, all of that. Seeing the people on-screen do their thing in how they danced, in how they communicated in this similar way. I felt like they were talking to me and I was talking back in the same language. I felt like this for my people.
Even more, the prominence of Black Women was amazing, inspiring, humbling. No doubt, Princess Shuri was kicking ass the baller-est tech genius I’ve seen on screen, in a while, if not of all time. James Bond’s Q can eat his heart out. She’s creative, smart, passionate, and hillllllarious. When she makes a paper of shoes that don’t have sound suppression, she tells her brother what they’re called: “Guess what I call them: sneakers.”
Also, women are often tasked with providing the bulk of emotional support in many communities. Not only did they provide some of that in this film, but they were at least equally the physical and mental backbones of Wakandan societies: the Panther Tribe is primarily protected by the Dora Milaje, composed of and led by badass women. Finally, the women were most of the interesting characters in the film. Aside from Killmonger, they had the most unexpected elements and some of the deepest parts to their characters. Again Shuri is not only genius, but hilarious. General Okoye stands firm every time to her dedication to the throne of Wakanda: when her love, the leader of the Border tribe, asks if she would kill him to save Wakanda, she doesn’t hesitate in her answer.
Aside from these elements, this film has an extraordinary set of layers.
First, the main villain is a Black dude. He’s a genius tactician, brutal fighter, and a hyper-masculated child of systemic socio-economic and racist structures in the United States. The film could easily have white-centered the conflict by keeping the white villain (‘Klaue’ played by Andy Serkis) and letting Killmonger be the evil sidekick. But Coogler (the Director) kept it real, real Black. He also demonstrated Killmonger’s genius and the commitment to Black-centering in the story very adeptly: Killmonger rescues Klaue only so that he could kill him as a way to gain entry and power in Wakanda. Genius.
There’s a consistent theme of bridging worlds (in time and space) through the movie. The Wakanda language is an evolved version of Nsibidi, an ancient pictographic language, that has an African feeling, but is very advanced. The music and score for the film is drawn from both Hip Hop (i.e., Kendrik Lamar’s Soundtrack), originating in the U.S., and North African beats (e.g., Mali’s Ali Farka Toure).
Then there’s the bridge between the suffering Black people of the world and the advanced society of Wakanda, who could have helped their people. I agree with Killmonger’s assessment that Wakanda should have done more, or at least tried, to help Black brothers and sisters around the world. There’s another piece of this that I feel as a man who is both Black and white. Similar to the Wakandans and the advantages they have through technology and isolationism, I have socio-economic privilege that derives from my intersectionality. How much do I bridge back to the world of my ancestors or to my brethren of the modern-day world where they don’t have the same advantages that I do? Despite not growing up in a family were Blackness was emphasized, I know and believe it is my responsibility to be there for our people. While living between two worlds presents challenges of identity, it is also an opportunity to do what is right.
I mean, there isn’t much to add to the above other than to reiterate the majesty that was #Wakanda. We’ve spoken about how representation matters, and the difference it makes to see incredible, rich, complex characters in movies (and the joy on the faces of the young boys and girls watching the movie is everything).
We’ve already highlighted some of the joy that the movie brought – check out these amazing girls again who just crush it. They make me smile every (100th) time I have watched the video!
I also loved how it connected some of the beautiful and varied imagery from different countries in Africa together in the rich visual tapestery. Check out some of the inspiration in this thread below:
As a totally selfish movie goer, I also loved how Xhosa was used in the film and it was done so artfully and how the code switching that is so common in South Africa was a part of this movie too. It was natural and authentic and made me miss home a great deal.
Just because I can, and because, well, she’s amazing, here’s some more Xhosa as Miriam Makeba sings one of her most famous songs: