When I discovered that Marvel would be making the Black Panther movie, I didn’t really think much of it. I’ve never been a superhero movie fan, nor have I ever been a superhero fan to begin with. I figured it would be just another one of “those” movies–like Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman; overhyped, disappointing heaps of letdown, brought to you by nostalgia and too many special effects. I did not plan on seeing the movie myself until I realized the severity of the hype surrounding it.
On the week of the movie’s debut, I logged on to Facebook to see countless posts celebrating the racial representation of Black Panther, as well as some pretty segregating ones. I was simultaneously pleased and annoyed. It felt like half of the people on social media were just happy to see a decent Marvel movie with a black main character while the other half devalued its worth with malformed gab about racial equality.
I decided, despite my predisposition to not particularly liking most superhero movies, that I would watch it on the big screen, barrel of popcorn in one hand and jug of Cherry Pepsi in the other. Instead of calling the seemingly ill-informed viewers out without watching it myself, I wanted to cover my ass. I wanted to see why so many people were going crazy for this film. Is it actually good, or is the hype ill-deserved promotion for another sub-par superhero film? Does it get super preachy about race, or does it do a wonderful job highlighting issues people of all colors are experiencing today? The only way I could find out is if I watched it for myself.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry–I won’t spoil anything for you. Several tribes live in a carefully-hidden place in Africa called Wakanda. Wakanda, unfortunately, does not exist in real life. Many kings before our main character T’Challa, a meteorite with the most powerful element known to man–vibranium–plummeted into Wakandan land. The inhabitants of Wakanda decided to harness such a powerful tool for the betterment of their own people. Their belief was that something so strong and versatile could easily become a dangerous weapon in the hands of enemies. They used vibranium to construct magnificent homes, other-worldly skyscrapers, and advanced automobiles and medicine. They also utilized the vibranium to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the dangerous world.
From my experience, the first fifteen or twenty minutes were incredibly slow. It took a while for me to get used to Chadwick Boseman’s poorly-executed Wakandan accent. In terms of looks, he was perfect to play the powerful, humble king T’Challa, but I really had to acclimate to his voice. I know it’s a very nit-picky gripe, but I’m starting to get really tired of directors that hire attractive actors who simply don’t fit the voice of the characters. Other than that, every single character was spot on.
After the first twenty minutes, this movie took off fast. The visuals were phenomenal, the acting was believable, the characters were both sympathetic and empathetic, the story was entertaining (and easy to follow), and someone needs to give the wardrobe director a medal.
With any big-budget superhero movie comes CGI and special effects, but this movie had just the right amount of it. In order to convey such an advanced world to any audience, there must be a lot of editing to do the job right. Unlike in most modern superhero movies, the special effects weren’t too heavy-handed. It felt real and substantial, even though it was a major part of the movie.
I have to give a lot of credit to the actors. I didn’t once think twice about the delivery of any dialogue in the movie, with the exception of Boseman’s forced accent. The actors fit their roles to a T, both in appearance and overall verbal and nonverbal conveyance.
What worked to the believability of the actors was the great storyline. The characters were so sympathetic and empathetic because the story was very realistic. The characters in this movie about a made-up land where kings get to dress up like cats and have superpowers are so relatable. It sounds silly when I put it that way, but nothing in the movie was cheesy in the slightest (EXCEPT FOR THAT AWFUL JOKE WHERE T’CHALLA’S SISTER MADE A “WHAT ARE THOOOOSE?” JOKE ABOUT HIS SHOES. I LITERALLY CRINGED AT THAT PART). The struggles the characters endure are just as impactful and important as the ones everyone goes through on a daily basis. The fact that they’re living in such an impossibly technologically-advanced utopia doesn’t make the characterization and story any less believable.
I won’t go into too much detail with the costume design. Just look at these snapshots from the movie and you, too, shall see the greatness that is Ruth E. Carter’s work.
All in all, I can honestly say that Black Panther is the only superhero movie I’ve ever loved. I enjoyed the Spider-Man movies with Toby McGuire as a kid, but re-watching them made me realize how silly some of the characters’ interactions with each other are. Even The Dark Knight–what some claim is the best superhero film ever made–didn’t interest me. Black Panther is objectively well-made. Not only did it perfectly blend great acting with great visuals, it also touched on a very sensitive issue about abandonment in the most effective way. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to watch it as soon as possible. It is by far, at least in my opinion, the best Marvel movie yet made.
Addressing the racially-driven social media posts is only appropriate because it is a large reason I decided to watch the movie in the first place. Again, Black Panther’s audience seems very divided when it comes to their own perception of the racial themes of the movie, and even the movie’s very existence. I believe that the main reason for this is because America hasn’t had a big-budget black superhero title to stand up to Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the laundry list of other popular white-casted superheroes.
People like to see themselves in the books they read and in the movies they watch. What I mean by that is representation is very important in media. On that same note, just because you don’t see a character with the same color skin as you in the movie you’re watching, the odds of you connecting to said character aren’t any lower. In fact, that isn’t true in the slightest. That’s just another reason diversity in media is important–people need to understand that they can relate to people who are different. Sometimes, movies are the best outlet for that.
The minute racial representation gets to be abrasive is when the racial representation is most important. The story, the characters, the writing, the atmosphere–all of that must take precedence over the urge to diversify a book or movie. A movie that talks down to the audience, first and foremost putting the message before the actual story, loses a degree of quality. I don’t care what the movie is about–I want to get engaged. No one wants a movie to shove obvious blips like “racism is bad” down their throats. Those sentiments aren’t going to affect a racist sensibility, and they aren’t entertaining to the general public, either. Simply showing that a character who is different can be relatable will get that point across.
That is why Black Panther is so good. Black Panther doesn’t hold your hand the whole time, nor does it shovel racial themes down your throat. It invites its audience to observe the journeys of our relatable main characters and learn about them as they, too, learn about themselves. Through that, perhaps the viewer may also learn something about himself.
When I think about Black Panther, I can’t help but be reminded of Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day–a children’s picture book published in 1962. It was the first picture book to feature a black main character. Keats himself explained that he didn’t illustrate his main character as being black for any particular reason other than the fact that “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”