There have always been movies in Hollywood, but they aren’t often movements. With the release of Ryan Coogler’s Marvel film Black Panther, we find ourselves in the midst of a pivotal cultural moment. Black Panther is the first black superhero to head to the big screen since the release of the Blade trilogy. Considering our political climate, the tides of change in Hollywood, and the research and history that went into making Black Panther, it may very well be one of the most important films of a generation.
Obviously, with anything that comes out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a superhero, sensational gadgets, and astounding special effects stand at the center of Black Panther. However, this particular film is way more than just a movie.
As a young man from Oakland, California, Coogler deeply related to T’Challa, the King of Wakanda. Growing up during a time when black representation in the mainstream and among superheroes, in particular, was sparse, Coogler, like many other black people growing up in the United States, saw a kinship and similarity in Black Panther.
In an interview with New York Daily News, Coogler explained,
How I learned about him was I asked the guy at my local comic book shop if he knew any black superheroes and he told me about Panther. I fell in love with the idea of superheroes when I was a kid. That’s when my love and obsession was at its greatest point, and I loved everything. I loved the Ninja Turtles, and they’re not even human. … For whatever reason, younger people are even more in awe of these characters, the idea of superheroes.
Representation continues to be vital. It reminds people that they are valued and that their humanity and stories are seen.
Next: A world devoid of colonialization
An unblemished history
The Transatlantic Slave Trade, slavery, colonization, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and racism have been deeply traumatic to black people across the globe. As a result of these brutal and horrific systems, families were ripped apart, connections to the Motherland have been lost, and many countries in Africa have deeply suffered. Also, poverty, lack of education, and so much more continually persist and marginalize black people.
Black Panther’s home, Wakanda, was never touched by these atrocities and as a result, we can see how rich Africa and its people are through this fictional land. Lupita Nyong’o, who stars as a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s ex-lover, Nakia, in the film told the New York Daily News,
This is an African nation that is self-determined, one that did not get interrupted by the assault of colonialism, and we can see how that self-determination looks, what modernity looks (like) to an African nation where another culture wasn’t imposed. That’s really exciting for African peoples to be able to see that image, and see themselves in the new light.
Next: Heroic black women
Black female warriors
For hundreds upon hundreds of years, black women, in particular, have been cast aside, looked down upon, harshly criticized for not living up to European standards of beauty, and insulted with other various stereotypes. Even within the black community, colorism has been prevalent which in turn has birthed practices like skin-bleaching.
With Black Panther, Coogler took a stand for black women, and in particular black women of darker hues. In casting Nyong’o, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Letitia Wright as Shuri, and Angela Bassett as Queen Mother Ramonda, Coogler is explicitly saying that black women including dark-skinned black women are beautiful, powerful, and strong.
Not only is T’Challa’s royal guard, the Dora Milaje or the adored ones a majestic group of all-female warriors, his sister Shuri is a genius who is more brilliant than Tony Stark.
These images are revolutionary.
Next: The best villain in the MCU
Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is being heralded as the best villain that the MCU has ever seen for one crucial reason. Embodying the rage of many black Americans who have suffered under white supremacy, Killmonger feels betrayed by T’Challa and Wakanda. He’s disgusted that they’ve chosen to hide instead of helping black people across the globe who have continued to be subjected to pain.
Jordan is masterful in his performance and his fury is palpable.
Next: The most important question
A nearly all-black cast
Coogler is the first black person to direct a Marvel film, and Black Panther boasts a nearly all-black (though diverse) cast. As a result, this film looks and feels different than the other seventeen films in the MCU. Black Panther is born out of a very particular perspective, one void of a white lens.
For Coogler, taking on the story meant heading to South Africa to do research. He told NPR, “For me, it was about this question of ‘What does it mean to be African?'”
Next: Resources and technology
Wakanda is bursting with technology, and standing at the head of it all is T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri. Coogler took the time to carve out a world based on Afrofuturism, science fiction, and fantasy that reflects the African diaspora at the center.
In fact, the entire reason why Wakanda has remained hidden from the outside world is because the country is rich in vibranium; that iconic metal in the Marvel Universe. Seeing other African countries getting pillaged and ripped apart by colonizers for their resources made Wakandans even more determined to protect their resources and technology.
Shuri has used her country’s resources to continually create new advances for Wakanda that range from her brother and Killmonger’s Black Panther suits to medical advances that treat the sick and wounded.
Wright who plays Shuri, told Den of Geek, “I stayed very closely to the script, and I watched a lot of documentaries about kids, particularly young girls who love technology and I wanted to do it for them.”
Next: Different views
A new lens
For too long, stories out of Hollywood have been told from a white male perspective, leaving out the voices and viewpoints of people of color and women. With his $200 million Black Panther and diverse cast and crew including costume designer Ruth E. Carter, co-writer Joe Robert Cole, Director of Photography Rachel Morrison, and many more, Coogler is changing that narrative.
It’s so exciting for the world, because it’s being told from the African perspective. That just obliterates the concept that things can only be told from the white perspective in order for them to be universal, which is ridiculous from the get-go. That’s a ridiculous idea. I love that this movie really sets a precedent where that is no longer going to stand any ground.
Follow Aramide on Twitter @midnightrami.
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