Monday, February 19, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

Not only is Black Panther breaking records at the box office, it's also re-energizing pride in African culture. Being that Black Panther is the first feature film of this generation about a black superhero, young black boys and girls, especially girls are seeing their likeness portrayed on the big screen like they never have before in there life. Hell, like I have never seen before and I'm 33!

And because of this re-energizing, some of the critical reception to Black Panther comes off like cinematic affirmative action citing that Black Panther is only receiving its fanfare because it's a "black" movie and simultaneously claiming that Black Panther doesn't deserve its fanfare because, well, it's a just a "black" movie. But au contraire, Black Panther is a great movie. Period.

Every movie has a plot, good movies have themes, but great movies tell a story.

One of the underlying themes that stood out to me in Black Panther is the adage, "you're not a man until your father dies." And as much as I hate that saying, I've lived it. But psychological thesis aside, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), like most men in Western Civilization (Africa is in all 4 hemispheres so yeah) lives in the shadow of his father, T'Chaka. This was also true for Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). And after the deaths of their fathers, both T'Challa and Killmonger would set out to become men of their father's vision, the anchor of the story which set up Killmonger to become the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Villain, yet.

Marvel has been diluting super villains to a manner that even I consider to be an insult, just being a casual comic fan. Limiting my point to just within the MCU, no villain has had any impact, whatsoever, to a hero's character on the big screen. Not Mandarin or Whiplash in Iron Man, not Red Skull in Captain America, and not even Ultron in Avengers. Hell, Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War was a better super villain than any other MCU bad guy until Black Panther. In the comics, these uber bad guys challenged the character of the men behind the mask, pushing the heroes' boundaries. And heroes even died. Good guys were killed during the clash of convictions with their super villain and not for any amount of money or power.

Then along came Erik Killmonger.

The plot of Black Panther started as T'Challa bringing Ulysses Klaue to justice for stealing Vibranium from Wakanda, something which T'Chaka wasn't able to do. But as T'Challa nearly apprehends Klaue, the plot shifts to T'Challa protecting his throne from Erik Killmonger and the story of T'Challa stepping out of his father's shadow reveals itself.

The theme of Killmonger representing the ultimate revolutionary for people of color was not missed by me. But I saw it as the vehicle for the story of T'Challa becoming his own man as King and not following a legacy of good intentions - which, we all know, paves the road to hell. This is what made Killmonger's characterization unique because he was the unintentional end of T'Chaka's means. Killmonger was T'Chaka's legacy, in the flesh, which challenged T'Challa's worldview and elevated him from a forgettable bad guy to a memorable super villain. The idea that Killmonger embodied would even give him allies that used to support T'Challa because he accomplished what T'Challa failed to achieve.

So, Black Panther was not just about another hero saving the day, it was a clash of ideals between T'Challa and Killmonger, like the comics or cartoon series. Revolution against oppression vs outreach and uplift. The story ended with T'Challa changed as a person and how he would rule as king. As much as I empathized with Killmonger, as much as a part of me wanted him to win, I knew T'Challa would bring the brighter future for not only just Wakanda but the entire world. And the fact that people (ok, maybe just us black folks) are having this very dialogue is what sets the story in Black Panther so far apart from all of the other movies in the MCU.

The new Dap

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