OMG OMG OMG OMG!!! SHOOKETH DOES NOT BEGIN TO COVER HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW!! AHHH!!!!
Okay I’m back lol. So…I’ve seen Black Panther and IT. WAS. EVERYTHING. From the moment the film started to the final post-credits scene (Marvel film watchers should know you don’t leave the theater until ALL the credits have rolled) this movie was quite simply a masterpiece. No, I’m not being extra because I’ve been waiting on this movie for a while; it really did pull everything off that we were promised. In fact, the movie did everything it set out to do AND then some, and I for one can’t wait to dig into it. It should go without saying, that this review and discussion will contain spoilers, so read on at your own risk if you haven’t seen it.
*Deep breaths* The movie started beautifully. The first words we hear was young T’Challa asking his father to tell him the story of home. From that moment I knew we were in for a treat. I legit almost teared up. How often have those of us hungry for knowledge of our history and heritage searched it out wherever we can find it? It's one of the reasons why Black people read and follow any “pro-Black” books and writings (I use the quotations because a lot of what we find isn’t really helpful to all Black people) they find. It’s why we go to HBCUs and try to learn as much as we can about our heritage and history. Ryan Coogler and the people behind this film know this, and by starting us off in Oakland, California and quickly shifting us to Wakanda, they allow the story we're looking for to unfold. They show us first the dystopian existence we have on this continent and then show us the beauty there is in this technologically advanced, almost utopian Black society of Wakanda. It's invigorating to feel as if even though our American lives are difficult, there is better out there. This is what Black Speculative Fiction has been trying to show us since its inception: that if we allow our imaginations to open up, there is nothing out of our reach. Wakanda is possible, and the ability to even think of its existence is in and of itself a revolutionary act.
Just as our Wakandan existence is possible, so are the existence of the people who inhabit it. I saw so many amazing people surrounding T'Challa in this film that I almost forgot he was the star. Wakanda was full of vibrant personalities like M’Baku, who stole his scenes and dropped more than a few panties and boxers. He also gave us two solid jokes about vegetarians and barking to silence annoying colonizers, so thanks for that. At first I was so happy for W’Kabi escaping The Sunken Place, but now I'm thinking he shoulda stayed there for all the hell he caused. It's like the saying goes, "It be ya own niggas". Old boy also doesn’t deserve Okoye, but then again, few people do. Which reminds me: the Black women are REALLY the ones who drove this film. Like, there is no question that Coogler knew that to really make this film quality and standout, the Black women needed to be front and center. Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje and the best warrior in all of Wakanda frequently got amazing action scenes and whooped major ass with nothing but a spear. Nakia, T’Challa’s ex (and quite possibly future) brought a much needed reality check to T’Challa and Wakanda’s xenophobic views. Black women stay doing the work. But it was Shuri, the princess of Wakanda, who probably had the most screentime of the women and was the most important to T'Challa. She was probably even more prominent than her mother, who as much as I love Angela Bassett, didn’t do much more than look regal the whole movie. Shuri will be a brilliant role model for Black girls I think for years to come. Not only is she an active princess, but she’s a technological genius far beyond anyone else we’ve seen in the MCU. Shuri designed pretty much all of Wakanda’s technology, including the Black Panther suit(s), she loves her brother fiercely, and she’s bubbly, fun, and the personification of #BlackGirlMagic. Shuri deserves her own movie more than perhaps anyone else in the movie. Well, except for maybe one…
Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is easily the most complex villain in the MCU. Sure, Bucky was Cap’s friend and he doesn’t want to commit the horrid crimes he is forced to and Loki is understandably antagonistic, but Killmonger takes nuance to a whole new level. As the son of T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu and T’Challa’s cousin, Killmonger (whose Wakandan name is N’Jadaka) believes he has a right to the throne. Though he's never been, he knows he has a place in Wakanda, and he seeks to reclaim it not just for himself but for all of the Black people he sees every day. Its interesting to see Killmonger's background play out over the course of the film. While T’Challa grew up in Wakanda pretty much pampered, Killmonger was one of the little boys who saw the Wakandan ship leave Oakland in the 90s. Whatever inspiration this could have given him was quickly shattered when he realized that someone on that ship took his only family away from him. The difference of upbringing is what makes the two kings of Wakanda so different, and what turned little N'Jadaka into the Killmonger we see rampaging through the film. Probably my favorite example of this is the difference between the two's visits to the Ancestral plane. T’Challa sees his entire lineage in a beautiful African field surrounded by panthers, but Killmonger goes back to his Oakland apartment in the hood to be greeted only by his father. The tears both Killmonger and his father shed during this moment are also much different from the tears T’Challa sheds with his father: both of the exiled royal men realize in this moment that being so separated from their home has ruined them both, and there’s nothing either of them can do about it.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in African American Studies to see the viewpoints of Killmonger and T’Challa as parallels for Black Americans and continental Africans. Even the fact that T'Chaka sent his brother to America and later kills him could be compared to some continental Africans complicity in the sale of their brothers and sisters into a life of horror. There has been some tension between the two groups which could easily turn into resentment on the part of Black Americans and obliviousness or even elitism on the part of continental Africans. That’s deep, to be sure, but that’s not even the whole of the parallel. There’s another level to it where the question comes up as to what is the best way to achieve Black liberation. Wakanda is xenophobic and isolated. As Nakia points out, they do nothing to help even other African people on the continent, so of course they don’t lift a finger to help Black Americans and our continued struggle(s). This pisses off Killmonger to no end, and honestly, I don't blame him. Multiple characters question if Wakanda is right for hoarding their resources from the global Diaspora(s), but it isn't until Killmonger shows up and throws Wakanda's perfectly poised existence into chaos that anyone REALLY does anything. Killmonger was as brutal as his name suggested, was misogynistic and just not a good person, but he made more than a few good points. What good does it do for some Black people to gain all the riches in the world when the majority of us barely have homes to lay our heads? "No one is free until we're all free," comes to mind, and while Killmonger definitely wanted to take Black liberation all the way to Black supremacy, you can still expect to see a lot of #KillmongerWasRight on social media and in merch, because in many ways he was. Killmonger clearly studied what it meant to be liberated, and was willing to shake the table even with his own people to help his people globally. It is a mark of how right Killmonger was that T’Challa picked up on some of his ideas and spent the end of the movie buying up property in Oakland, like the building where Killmonger grew up, to turn it into a Wakandan Outreach Center, (Good!) and joining the U.N. (Bad! Don’t give the colonizers access to your stuff!). Killmonger is such a great villain because he is only barely a villain. The best villains are the complex ones, and being complex and humanized is a luxury most Black villains don't get. I mean come on, when he died he asked to be buried in the ocean with his Ancestors who knew that death was better than bondage! That man had some good ideas that I hope we really, REALLY start to think about as we continue to fight for ALL Black liberation.
That’s why this movie is so important. It isn’t just a superhero movie, despite what these bitter ass people would have you think. This is a message, a source of imagination, and yes, the start of a movement. The fact that Killmonger’s ideology is being played seriously in a multi-million dollar blockbuster for all Black folks to see? That’s revolutionary. The fact that little Black girls are going to get to see themselves represented in a genre that is overwhelmingly white and male? That’s beyond empowering. The unbridled Black joy shown at the premieres? That’s liberating. The possibility for Black indie creators to use this film as a springboard to take back the narrative? That’s a movement. Even Black Panther’s few missteps (I hate that they apparently erased the queerness from the script) aren’t enough to stop this from being an absolutely amazing movie. Everything here was purposeful, from the silencing of whiteness to the bookends of Black children being in awe of Wakanda, everything happened for a reason. When you have moments like this regularly happening surrounding the film, you know you’ve done something right, and Ryan Coogler, Ruth Carter, and the cast have created a masterpiece.
What did you think of Black Panther? Did you see any things I missed out on? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!