If you’ve clicked on this blog post, you’re probably thinking ‘What a ridiculous claim…’ – clickbait!
Hold on for a second; there are many reasons why Marvel’s latest offering stands up to this huge accolade.
There have been many important black films in the last decade: ‘Moonlight’, ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Get Out’, to name but three. With the exception of ‘Get Out’, which definitely gives ‘Black Panther’ a run for it’s money and most definitely deserves that Oscar, none of the movies made to date can match the groundbreaking, visionary piece of work that is ‘Black Panther’.
- It depicts what Africa could be as a very tangible, possible future. Not a month goes by without me having a conversation about the potential Africa has and just as a black president had to be imagined and accepted on screen (’24’), so an African nation that uses it’s own resources to power and define itself has to be visualised before this generation and the next finally say “We can do this. And we can do it on our own”. The use of vibranium, a herb found in Wakanda, to give its warriors superhuman strength but also to create an efficient, technologically advanced metropolis stands as a metaphor for the responsible ownership and use of Africa’s natural resources, not to export but to harness for it’s own greatness.
- It addresses the tension between Africans and African-Americans in a nuanced and powerful way – the familial connections, the feelings of betrayal and rejection, the guilt as well as the potential for real love was so painful to watch. The themes of death and bondage resonate throughout the film, with their powerful connotations of slavery and incarceration.
- It highlights the sins of past generations haunting and holding back the young. Enough said.
- It revels in black, feminine beauty and intelligence with great honour. The seminal battle scene moment between W’kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), acknowledges her prowess and courage but also his respect for her. It’s-so-damn-hot! Both characters hold such strength and dignity in that moment.
- It continues to do this with great humour, especially in the moment when Okoyo rips off her European-style wig in combat. There are so many beautiful, natural and simple depictions of black hair and beauty. On top of this, every single black character is DARK – chocolate, cocoa-buttery brown. Casting has not been done through a white prism and the ignorant argument of ‘this is just what society finds attractive’ is completely absent.
- It admits what many refuse to acknowledge: Africa can only be exploited when we stop protecting and cherishing ourselves and our God-given blessings. The replacement of Ulysses Klaue, a stereotypical white villain, with a more insidious, familial one makes this clear. Tyrants are created and the society that births them is complicit.
- Every character, even supporting ones are three dimensional, shifting in the way the audience judges them because they are put in contrasting contexts that bring out their humanity and motivations. M’Baku, the leader of the mountain tribe is an excellent example of this – at first a usurper to the throne, we then witness his integrity and humour. In the same vein, it’s incredible how much empathy we develop for the ‘villain’ Killmonger and how torn you feel when you see characters like W’kabi change allegiances. These are characters that fight for their beliefs and are capable of casting friendship aside in the pursuit of something bigger.
- It’s not just a film about race as so many ‘black’ films are reduced to thematically. The concepts of royalty, governance and loyalty are deep and this is what cranks up the tension and the stakes…it’s almost biblical. Just as King Nebuchadnezzar could not go back on his word and save Daniel because the law of the King was greater than the man himself (Daniel 6 – it’s a great read!), so the power of Wakanda’s rituals for the throne supersede the individual sitting on the throne. This causes a great rift in the country and leads to the beginnings of civil war…
- It doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable and embarrassing truth of the CIA’s involvement in the destabilisation of strong African nation states and this will resonate with those who remember the CIA- sanctioned murder of Patrice Lumamba, the first Congolese president. This is implied in the Wakandans’ distrust of Everett K.Ross (Martin Freeman) and I hope will be more directly addressed in the sequel (when?!)
- There isn’t a single drug, sex or blaxploitation scene. The audience gets to focus on narrative and character and yet this doesn’t happen in an unbelievable, racially blind vacuum. The producers and writers have simply taken the time to make the world make sense and then focus on real storytelling.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of this points, or if you can convince me that another film deserves this mantle!