by T. Mack
Before it premiered this past weekend, Marvel’s Black Panther was breaking records for pre-sales and getting ready for one of the most lucrative opening weekends in MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) history. The hype surrounding the film has been intense. However, the movie absolutely lives up to all of it. This film deserves to break records. It is a film that sets new standards of excellence within the MCU and within movies in general. It is also a movie that accomplishes much more than making lots of money for film makers and the Disney Empire. This is a movie that is important to the time in which we live. It is a film that speaks to the current racial tension in America and around the world. It addresses the misrepresentation of entire people groups on a systematic level. It showcases representation in media and empowers in many ways a group of people that, though scattered throughout the globe, have all continued to feel an oppression that began hundreds of years ago. It opens the door for better representation not only of blacks, but of all minorities around the world. Possibly most importantly, this is a movie that reminds all of us of the responsibility we have to people around the world who are less fortunate than ourselves, those outside of our own communities, economic and privilege circles, and personal bubbles who could benefit from what we have to offer, but are often unwilling to give.
Before we break all that down, let’s talk about the bottom line. This movie is excellent and everyone who has not seen it yet should do so immediately. It tells a compelling story with political and racial depth that speaks directly to communities across the globe. It is filled with some of the most incredible acting talent to be found in the world. Even though it is a MCU film, it has the ability to stand completely alone and does not rely on that connection for its appeal. Someone who has not seen a single Marvel film or TV show can sit through Black Panther and not miss a thing. No other MCU heroes even show up in the run time of the film. The movie offers what can arguably be hailed as the best MCU villain since Loki. He is a man with a cause, and frankly, he has a point. His argument is a valid one and it could be debated whether his methods are terrible, necessary, or some combination of both. The film is excellent on just about every level a film may be judged: visual appeal, audio and music quality, acting talent, storytelling, character development, thought-provoking arguments, incredible action sequences, beautiful costumes, and many more. If you’ve not already seen this film, do so as soon as possible. If you have been able to enjoy it, make sure you let those around you know they should do the same. Also, go see it again if you have the time. It’s a movie worth sitting through more than once.
RATING: 5 SHIELDS!
Now that you know you should see it, let’s break down the strength and power of black representation in Black Panther and some of the possible political and social ramifications of that.
First, know that this movie is, as one YouTube reviewer commented, “Black as f#ck!” Nearly the entire film takes place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Outside of Wakanda, the location we see most often is a poor, black community in Oakland, California. Nearly the entire cast is black, and represents both Africans and the African diaspora (those communities around the globe that are the direct result of Africans who moved or were moved from Africa in historic times; the Black community in America is for many the most notable example of the African diaspora, with that population being the descendants of African slaves brought to the American colonies hundreds of years ago).
Typically, blacks make up the minority wherever they reside around the world. Even when blacks are not the minority, they often and typically have less power and opportunity than white people in the same location. Because of this, Africans and African diaspora are rarely represented accurately in media, either as the significant portion of the population that they are, or as strong, powerful, and outstanding citizens of that population. When they are represented, you will often only see the lighter side of black on the screen unless they are the villain. Because even within communities of color, color-ism (the favoring of light-skinned minorities over their dark-skinned brethren) is a thing that creates further division of people. All these statements also apply to women, doubly to black women. Black Panther, however, turns all these paradigms on their heads.
The black people in this film are everywhere and the story that is told in this movie is theirs. The characters are not in any way caricatures or one-note representations of an entire people group. Instead, there are many different personalities, motivations, backgrounds, and points of view shown. There are diverse standards of African beauty portrayed and black people are showcased on both the heroic and villainous sides of conflict. The women in the film are incredible and powerful in their positions as queens, warriors, spies, tech geniuses, diplomats, royal councilors, farmers, and mothers . The film even manages to speak to a subject that most blacks won’t even address among themselves–the division and isolation of Africans and African diaspora from one another and their typical inability to relate to one another as family, though of course, that’s exactly what they are.
The color spectrum is also reflected well in the film, with people of color being portrayed by actors and actresses across the entire melanin spectrum, including the very dark. They all play characters that are strong, courageous, and powerful. Each one has education, talents, specific skill sets and the opportunity to showcase them in spectacular fashion. However, each one is also flawed, as all humans are and must face obstacles and choices that are complex and at times, heartbreaking.
All of this in a feature film that is part of the biggest current cinematic universe in the world is an enormous coup for black communities world-wide. Because though our representation in film is increasing and the last couple of years actually brought very positive steps for our cause, Black Panther will be the single most successful black-led movie in film history. The fact that it will likely make billions of dollars is important for black representation and all minority representation in all media, and especially in Hollywood. It means that there will be more black representation and the opportunity for more minority representation as a whole. It means that children of black and other minority descent will have the opportunity to see themselves in more heroes, in more roles of power, in more respectful aspects, in ways they have not previously had the chance. It means that they will better understand what they are capable of, what they can overcome, and how they can make a difference to change their communities and the world for the better.
Yes, Black Panther is a movie. But it is not just a movie. Because of the story it tells and the people it uses to tell that story, it has become a movie that is able to accomplish more for people world-wide than 99% of movies are able to do. It is a win for blacks and other minorities all over the planet. It’s an opportunity for minorities to send a message to media moguls and those in power that we are here, we are paying attention, and there is power in our numbers. It is a chance for people of all colors to come together and have a conversation about our past, our present, and our future. It is a light for young minorities to see themselves on screen, to know that they have value, that they are powerful, and that they have something to offer this world. Black Panther is a movie. And it is… So. Much. More. It is fantastic. It is historic. It is powerful. And it is a turning point for representation of blacks and all minorities in main stream media.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the film also poses an intriguing and difficult question to its characters and viewers. It creates for its characters a dilemma with two possible solutions. The solutions are vastly juxtaposed and make the characters decide what kind of people they will be and how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to support and help others. It’s an intriguing question with solid arguments for both sides. It is a question that the characters face, but that the audience must also reflect upon to decide what they believe. Savvy viewers will also realize that it is a question that applies to us as well. What are we willing to do to make a difference in our communities and around the world? What sacrifices and discomforts are we willing to endure to make the world better? For some people, this is a question they ask themselves daily. For others, it’s a question that has never even come up. Black Panther changes that for the latter.
Supporting this film supports the cause of minority representation and minority empowerment across the entire world. Though that statement is ridiculously earnest, it is also true. Black Panther has a lot riding on its shoulders. But this film is up to the challenge and is already accomplishing these goals. This film will make a difference. By seeing it, you play a part. By talking about it, you increase your role. By thinking through the complex questions the film poses and taking action in your community however you can, you become part of the solution and make a difference as well. I hope you see Black Panther, for yourself and for the world.