Wakanda Dream Is This?: A Film Review of Black Panther
Lovers of sequential arts, filmgoers, and Marvel Comics fans have waited a long time for “Black Panther” to hit the big screen. In fact, it’s been 57 years since the Black Panther’s first debut in a Fantastic Four issue in 1961. Finally, thanks to director and writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther and the fictional country of Wakanda has been given the cinematic appreciation it so rightfully deserves.
The movie begins with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Wakanda’s prince and Black Panther, being appointed king after he returns home following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. Just as T’Challa is embracing his newfound role, he is quickly thrown into an unresolved conflict caused by the decisions of his father and ancestral predecessors.
Superhero films have a bad reputation for relying too heavily on CGI when pulling off stunts, flying green suits, and general worldbuilding, but in this case, Black Panther’s CGI was nearly seamless. From the Tokyo car chase, the Black Panther armour, and the city and mountain scapes, I was completely immersed in the movie’s world. CGI will always have an uncanny look–that is to be expected–but this time it was top-notch, and didn’t take me out of the film.
But it’s not just the large-scale action scenes, or globetrotting that makes this film larger than life. The small attention to detail also deserves recognition. Ruth E. Carter, “Panther’s” costume designer found inspiration from different indigenous groups on the African continent, such as the Himba people of northern Namibia and the brass neck rings of the southern Ndebele tribe. Her work can be found in little details like Okoye’s gold jewelry, an indicator of status amongst the Dora Milaje, each Wakandian tribe’s color coordination, and the African beading-inspired clothing.
It’s important to note the grounded Africanity within this film. From the makeup and wardrobe, to the set design and language, the creators also utilized traditional African beats in their music. Most notably, the music that plays when a member of the Dora Milaje fight. These beats were inspired by traditional Senegalese music, and Panther’s composer, Ludwig Göransson, recorded most of the background sounds in Senegal. Göransson also worked with Kendrick Lamar and SZA for the end-title song, “All the Stars”, which also utilizes inspired African beats.
Camera angles also added bits of magic and symbolism to the film’s overarching themes, such as a 360° camera flip from upside down to rightside up and the 180° turn on the mountainside when the heroes are surrounded by the Wakandan secluded mountain tribe, the Jabari.
It was fun to see the chemistry between T’Challa, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira), which was exceptional during the casino scene in Busan, South Korea, where our heroes come face to face with their adversary, Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis). The entire sequence is a testament to Coogler and Cole’s writing talent and their ability to balance comedy within the weighty and serious beats of the film, without losing sight of their characters’ personalities.
Separately, we get to see T’Challa interact with each important woman in his life: his staunch mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his brilliant sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) , his ex-girlfriend and trained spy, Nakia, and the General of the fierce and loyal Dora Milaje, Okoye. But back in Busan, we see how his trust in his friends and family help him battle. Each women in this film is very capable and strong, which was refreshing to see in a world that loves to paint women through the male gaze as damsels in distress in constant need of rescuing. All of these women provide him with the necessary tools and aid to be a better Black Panther and a better king.
As for Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, his performance as a villain, or, in terms of perspective, an anti-hero, was creditable. Understandably, Jordan is used to portraying a struggling protagonist, like in Fruitvale Station and Creed, both also directed by Ryan Coogler, but his portrayal as a villain left a little more to be desired.
In scenes where viewers are suppose to find Killmonger absolutely menacing, Jordan’s portrayal comes off as forceful, and not naturally threatening or suave. Towards the ending, where Killmonger speaks a profound line to T’Challa about their survival and ancestry, Jordan’s delivery fell flat. Whereas the audience is supposed to see Killmonger slick-talking and spitting out every word with fury and fire, I see Jordan mean-mugging the camera. Regardless, his one or two flat lines do not put a damper on the entirety of his performance. There are many moments where his anger rings believable and entices sympathy, and empathy even, for the character. In terms of look, Jordan fits the part of Killmonger like a glove, once again proving the prowess of the wardrobe and makeup team.
Overall, this film is a wonderful blend of concepts such as Afrofuturism, Pan-Africanism, Womanism, and the Black Aesthetic, just name a few. The majority of the cast is Black and doesn’t stereotype any of its members into watered-down Mammies, or Brutes, like in the 1971 film, Shaft or in Tyler Perry’s, Madea series. There’s no hypersexualization or demonization of any leading Black cast member, that is so often seen in Hollywood films. The film breaks free from the typical Hollywood tycoon who doesn’t know or understand the Black experience enough to write a realistic Black character. Everyone is multifaceted, emotionally, politically, and intellectually. This is the cinema that Black Americans and members of the Black Diaspora have been waiting for, and a film that many others can enjoy too.
If we dig deeper, this film can also be viewed as a metaphor for the Black Liberation struggle through its questioning of who has the right to be angry and where that anger should be directed. Are displaced people of African descent justified in their rage towards continental Africans and their perceived placidity to the TransAtlantic Slave Trade? Or were continental Africans justified in their perseverance and willingness to preserve tradition and lifestyle after the disruption of their economy, population, and human rights?
However you interpret it, please, treat yourself to this wonderful film. If not for the costume design, choreography or cinematography, just go to see these beautiful, melanated actresses and actors on the big screen. It’s truly a dream come true.