Property review: Black Panther

Mar­vel Stu­dios, 2018

Black, powerful,beautiful

See­ing your peo­ple rep­re­sented on the sil­ver screen when you are a per­son of color means quite a bit. See­ing them do impor­tant things and be decent human beings means quite a bit more. See­ing them as roy­alty and enjoy­ing pros­per­ity means everything.

Writ­ten well and superbly acted, Black Pan­ther has the dif­fi­cult job of being a lot of things to a lot of peo­ple and it suc­ceeds. Even with the heavy top­ics of race and what it means to be black in the world, there are light moments. Black Pan­ther isn’t with­out humor and it’s deftly mixed in with the right bal­ance. How it achieved this bal­ance is impor­tant because it has quite a few sto­ries to tell in a short amount of time.

When Black Pan­ther was announced, the most we knew about T’Challa was from the comics: He was the ruler of Wakanda — a pros­per­ous black nation in Africa that was hid­den from the rest of the world — and that he was mar­ried to Storm of the X-Men. Also, he was on a quest of revenge for the death of his father T’Chaka, which occurred in Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War. That’s about it. But then some­thing won­der­ous hap­pened: Mar­vel started talk­ing about T’Challa’s ori­gin story and why it was impor­tant to get it out there. And that push began one of the great­est runs ever for a comic book property.

Black Pan­ther is so lay­ered with dif­fer­ent con­cepts that it’s hard to not go down the rab­bit hole too deep. Black Pan­ther starts out with the re-introduction of T’Challa some months after the death of T’Chaka and T’Challa’s ascent to the throne of Wakanda. In swift order we are intro­duced to Okoye, Shuri and the advanced nature of Wakanda, thanks to the infi­nite sup­ply of vibra­nium. T’Challa’s day-to-day strug­gle to rule Wakanda along­side its other clans, keep the nation safe from the out­side world and get involved in the world’s affairs is just one of the lay­ers and that’s swiftly peeled back to show that every­thing on the sur­face is just that: Sur­face mate­r­ial for the more press­ing con­cept of just what it means to be black and free.

The intro­duc­tion of Erik Kill­mon­ger is one of the next lay­ers down. Kill­mon­ger rep­re­sents the rest of the black expe­ri­ence: hurt, angry, bit­ter and want­ing some­thing more in life than to be stereo­typed and aban­doned by the world at large. Killmonger’s story is the result of what hap­pens when we as black peo­ple are not uplifted and left at the mercy of an unfor­giv­ing sys­tem of oppres­sion and what hap­pens when we don’t help our own who are down­trod­den and hurt­ing. And though that strug­gle is sim­pli­fied here for the gen­eral masses, it still speaks to the heart of America’s past and present in terms of race.

On a deeper level, there is the con­cept of what it means to be a leader and a man. T’Challa’s devel­op­ment from Civil War to Black Pan­ther is so detailed that it feels like we knew noth­ing about him before Black Pan­ther. And this is the same with the rest of the char­ac­ters: No one is left out of the devel­op­ment process and every character’s moti­va­tions are addressed in painstak­ing detail. And with that devel­op­ment comes a wealth of stand­out char­ac­ters. Shuri, Okoye, W’Kabi and Nakia are won­der­ful char­ac­ters that add depth to T’Challa’s life and story. And the true scene-stealing addi­tion is M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe. Mak­ing a mem­o­rable entrance early in the film, M’Baku man­ages to strike a defi­ant yet relat­able chord in his quest to have his part of the Wakan­dian pie rec­og­nized for its might and resiliency.

And what a pie Wakanda is. From the open­ing sequence of T’Challa return­ing home from an impor­tant mis­sion to the end­ing sequence show­ing the Wakan­dian sun­set, the nation of free and pros­per­ous black folk is a beauty. Every­thing that we imag­ine the moth­er­land to be in its nat­ural beauty and won­der­ment was and is a sight to behold in the fic­tional nation’s depic­tion. Wakanda is beau­ti­ful, lush and vibrant with an Afrop­unk futur­is­tic vibe that we have only seen glimpses of in the real world through the pages of magazines.

Black Pan­ther meant a lot of things to a lot of peo­ple when it hit the screen. Its sequel is poised to bring the same type of magic as well. With the show put on by direc­tor Ryan Coogler in Black Pan­ther, we can only wish that our return to Wakanda is just as fun and impor­tant as our first go around. Wakanda forever.

How we grade

Act­ing: 10

Story: 10

Like the comics?: 9.5

Over­all grade: 9.8

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

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