“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”
King T’Chaka, John Kani
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s the film that’s been on everyone’s lips since it was first announced by Marvel back in October 2014, and the success of the film’s release hasn’t done anything to slow it’s popularity. And six must be a lucky number for Black Panther because after six weeks it has grossed more than six times its original budget of $200 million worldwide. Currently standing at a worldwide total of $1,237,316,236 Black Panther has domestically outgrossed the previous Marvel heavy-hitter The Avengers (2012), making it the best performing Marvel film ever.
Picking up soon after the events of Captain America: Civil, T’Challa returns to the hidden futuristic African nation of Wakanda to take on the royal mantle of his recently deceased father. Surrounded on all sides by enemies and friends alike, T’Challa finds that he must prove himself worthy of his people and Wakanda.
Black Panther is the first Marvel predominantly black cast action-hero film and like Jimmy Kimmel said at this year’s 90th Oscars: “I remember a time when the major studio heads didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie, and the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year.” Jokes aside, the change for Marvel in having a minority-led, directed and produced film is no laughing matter. Essentially 2018 has put the spotlight on a cinematic movement that has been years in the making, as it continues to push open the movie industry to become a place for more equal and diverse opportunities. And with films with minority and immigrant directors like Get Out and The Shape Of Water (and many more) getting recognised in the upper echelons of the movie awards seasons this year, you can really start to feel the clogs starting to slowly change.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that someone has attempted to make a film based on the Black Panther Marvel comics. Way back in the 1990’s, pre-Blade fame Wesley Snipes fought an uphill battle to create a Black Panther film, mainly due to Snipe’s belief that there was a confusion about backers (unaware of the comics) who thought the film was about the far-left black nationalist Black Panther party.
At the helm of Marvel’s latest success is director Ryan Coogler. Known for his two feature films – Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) – Coogler’s distinctive viewpoint puts the stories of minorities in the forefront of his films. With only two feature films under his belt, you might wonder why Marvel took such a giant leap with choosing Coogler? But seeing the success and true celebration of African culture achieved in this film, it’s not hard to see why they picked him. Not only has he been given the freedom to re-write the rules for what a superhero is and can be, but Coogler has taken the tried and test (and tired!) superhero formula and created something truly imaginative, stylish and true to its story’s roots.
One of the most celebrated aspects of the film has been its celebration of African culture. Black Panther is used as a canvas to display a colourful and diverse culture, which is backed the visionary members of the black cinematic community given the opportunity to shine and collaborate within this film. Additionally, the mix of futuristic and traditional design works wonders and gives Black Panther the most unique ‘look’ of all the Marvel films. From the costuming to the soundtrack, Black Panther is in a league of its own – and rightly so.
Black Panther is also a film that showcases black acting at its finest. For what has been a predominately white-led cast from the very first Marvel venture back in 2008 (Iron Man), I think it’s both a shock and triumph that minority representation has finally come to the forefront of the big league blockbuster films.
There are a number of outstanding performances, but none more so than from the film’s scene stealer – Danai Gurira. There are truly no words to describe how good she was in her role as Okoye, the badass general of Wakanda’s army. She is empowering, beautiful and lethal. More than that though, I think the roles of every woman in this film are very important, like tech-smart Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Wakanda’s number one spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). The strong female characters are a tribute to women everywhere. But more importantly, they are an unbelievably important role for black girls and women around the world. As the FiveThirtyEight article on Black Panther says:
“The volume of evidence shows that when audiences see on-screen representations of themselves, particularly aspirational ones, that experience can fundamentally change how they perceive their own place in the world. Black people have been historically underrepresented on screen, and black women in strong roles even more so. Shuri provides a science-y role model for black women, a group distinctly underrepresented in STEM fields.”
As well as having an outstanding female cast, Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger) and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) prove that Black Panther is a film that focuses on true acting excellence from the entire cast. Jordan is a Coogler favourite, and it’s easy to see why. Jordan commands the screen and his youth and good looks don’t take away from him being one of Marvel’s most convincing villains – but also an up-and-coming acting powerhouse of his generation.
The biggest achievement that Black Panther has is that it has re-invented the now tried and tested superhero genre. The way that the originality of its source material has been approached and the creation of its well-layered characters and story show that there is definitely room for more minority-led films like Black Panther in this overly saturated white Marvel cinematic universe.
However, now that Black Panther has finally had its own moment to truly shine, you have to consider how it will face up against other Marvel fan favourites like Iron Man, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy – all with multiple successful sequels already under their belts – in the upcoming Infinity War film. With the upcoming release of 10 years worth of planning and preparation, will Black Panther still be as unique and standout as it has been in its solo film? Or will it’s originality be lost amongst a sea of tight latex suits and precious white male egos? I guess only time will tell. But if the solo Wonder Woman film’s popularity and her resultant major lead role in the Justice League film is anything to go by, we’re going to see a lot more of Wakanda in Infinity War.
Black Panther is truly a film about exhibiting and celebrating black excellence and I hope it paves the way for other poc movie collaborators and actors to be brought forward and given their very own opportunity to shine.