Seven Academy Award nominations. Glory to Bast! Sure Black Panther is at its core a superhero film, but what really got the film this far? Some may say its the progressive afro-futurist setting, while others may say that Black Panther revolutionized representation in media. For some though, Black Panther is nothing but a socio-political statement used to grab the black dollar. In any such case, Black Panther was a huge critical and financial success for more reasons than the Marvel logo or any ill-perceived political interpretations.
Let’s start with the setting and lore of Wakanda. Set inside an oasis created by the impact of a massive vibranium meteorite, Wakanda is the most technologically advanced and well fortified place on Earth. Based on real tribes and cultures across the African continent, Wakanda is a glimpse of what could have been, had the Trans-Atlantic slave trade never happened, boosted by the other-worldly effects of science fiction. Ruled over by the Gold Tribe, the Nation worships the panther goddess, Bast. Starting with the ancient Bashenga, the mantle of the Black Panther has been passed down over generations of the Gold Tribe all the way up to T’Chaka, the former king.
When T’Chaka is killed overseas, his son T’Challa must step forward to lead his people as the new king. T’Challa is not unchallenged, however, as the secluded mountain Jabari Tribe answers back with their own leader, the fierce M’Baku. The Jabari reject the technological advancements of the rest of Wakanda, instead favoring naturalism, as- for example- hardened Jabari wood can go toe to toe with vibranium. These two conflicting tribes illustrate the never-ending struggle between the progressive and conservative mindset, something our own nation struggles with today.
Another interesting theme in Black Panther is masculinity. T’Challa’s main supporters are mostly strong female figures. T’Challa’s wise mother, his young genius sister Shuri, second in command Okoye and love interest Nakia, all come in clutch for him when he most needs help, and guide him as he navigates kinghood. These fierce women are portrayed by incredibly talented actresses who make decisions based upon strong convictions without sacrificing any integrity.
Furthermore, Black Panther challenges typical masculinity with T’Challa’s approach to his enemies. The king refuses to talk smack with his opponents and remains silent and collected, favoring strategy over brutality. Even though T’Challa has the power to lift cars and jump several stories in a single bound, he reserves his skills until absolutely necessary. T’Challa is even attacked by symbols of toxic masculinity throughout the film. M’Baku fights with a long, almost phallic staff, and Klau removes a recovered piece of vibranium from his crotch area, slamming it on a table.
Even Killmonger pretty much dunks on T’Challa during the second ritual combat sequence. Though these villains fight to kill the King, T’Challa ends up offering mercy to all three adversaries in the film. This important theme provides an example to all people, especially children, that strength does not have to accompany aggression.
Speaking of Erik Killmonger, let’s talk about the lost Prince N’Jadaka. The antithesis of everything T’Challa stands for, Killmonger was born and raised in Oakland, California. His father N’Jobu was there on a spy mission but ended up falling in love with an unnamed local woman and the surrounding community. Seeing the injustice that has fallen upon people of color across the globe, N’Jobu plants the idea in his son’s head that Wakanda must free her lost children from their masters by force. This idea mirrors the conflicting philosophies between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. While Doctor King favored peace, love and empathy, Malcolm X stressed the idea of fighting back, and even using violence during the era of American Segregation.
Killmonger’s view of the world and Wakanda was tainted by the death of his father at a young age, creating a man full of rage and entirely absent of mercy. His plan is to kill T’Challa and his allies, take the throne and the role of Black Panther and then send vibranium-powered weapons across the globe. With these weapons, the world would start over with Wakanda as the prime figure and influence of power. Although skewed, Killmonger does present valid points about the atrocity of colonization and the duty Wakanda owes to the world. Both T’Challa’s philosophy of reserved defense and mercy and Killmonger’s vengeful attitude present an interesting dynamic for the viewer to think about. It is inherently wrong to attempt to cancel out one genocide with another, while it is also selfish to remain absent from the global stage when so many need aid.
The final confrontation between the two Black Panthers ends with Killmonger at death’s door. Here, T’Challa offers mercy to his cousin yet again, but he is rejected, as N’Jadaka would rather die than sacrifice his spiritual integrity as a slave to T’Challa’s clemency.
All thought-provoking themes aside, Black Panther is not without its flaws. The final battle falls victim to the typical CGI mess of modern day blockbusters, and some forced humor should have ended up on the cutting room floor. The pacing isn’t perfect, and some of the acting can come off at times as overbearing and corny. Flaws aside, when Black Panther hits its stride it does so with gravitational importance and grace.
Black Panther means many things to many people. Some viewers like it, some loved it and others did not care for it. But that is okay. In a time when nearly everybody and everything is polarizing, Black Panther offers viewers both escapism and commentary on the division prominent in our society, while at the same time giving black children heroes that they can relate to, and a villain they understand. Is Black Panther the greatest motion picture ever made? Far from it. But the high esteem it holds for African culture and its positive portrayal of black figures makes it revolutionary. Black Panther deserves every nomination due to the sheer impact it has created and the influence it leaves for future generations.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment