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Black Panther. A Review

On Friday, February 23rd I finally saw the movie Black Panther! I went with eight other graduate students to watch it at the AMC 18 Tamiami theatre at 6:20PM. 6:20PM was the only showing that had enough seats for all of us! We did have to get tickets prior to, because even though the movie had been out the weekend prior, it was still selling out quick.

Admittedly, I had wanted to see it on its opening weekend, however, although I was totally willing to avoid all of my responsibilities to see the movie on February 15th, my friends were not. I also had other concerns, particularly whether or not large gatherings to see, what could only be described as a BLACK movie, would spark outside violence. This especially true when other friends were telling one another to be careful in this present wave of open-racial violence.

Needless to say, I was finally able to see the movie TWO TIMES this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. I went and watched it again by myself on February 25th to gather my own thoughts and hopefully catch things that I missed the first time I saw it. For the second time, I watched it at CineBistro in Dolphin Mall.

My thoughts on the film [SPOILERS ahead]

The film was awesome. It was unlike any other Marvel film that I had ever seen, because it equally balanced out the action parts of the movie with providing deep back stories to the characters. The visuals in the movie, along with the colors were also quite intriguing. The costume designer and set designer did really great job! The film starts off with an adult telling a child the story of the fictional country Wakanda, located, yet hidden away, on the African continent. We are then taken to 1992 Oakland, California where racial tensions are high. A “woke” Sterling Brown plays N’Jobu, a Wakandian war dog (spy) that is also brother to the then King,  T’Chaka (played by John Kani). N’Jobu has grown to sympathize with and become a part of the Black Power and other revolutionary movements at the time.

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This opening scene, although quite short, sets up the dynamics of the movie for us. On the one hand we have this very powerful BLACK country that is isolated, yet still involved— through their war dogs and in the U.N.—with the rest of the world. And on the other hand, their involvement with the rest of the world raises these questions: what does their strength mean abroad for other Black people? & How will they use their strength abroad to empower oppressed Blacks?

in 1992, T’Chaka is against letting the world know about the powerful and technologically advanced Wakanda. Instead, he is fine with outsiders viewing Wakanda as another “Third World” African country. However, N’Jobu, who witnesses the violence and discrimination of other Blacks simply because of their color, wants the world to know— not for malicious purposes— about Wakanda’s strength, which he sees would help to contribute to the betterment of Blacks internationally. The latter is an altruistic stance, no doubt, and one that I whole-heartedly take. The question is then: by what means does he (N’Jobu) choose to go about accomplishing those goals. The movie, then becomes a question of means to an end for Black people (much like those who debate the “less radical” MLK and the “more radical” Malcom X. I put more/less radical in quotes, because it is quite laughable and sad that the means of Black self-determination has to be measured in that sense).

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the movie is highly political, yet set in a fictionalized universe. It is the narrative of the movie which is much more suited to reality. This also very much distinguishes it from the other films in the Marvel franchise.

To not veer too var form my review, I will breakdown the PROS and CONS of the film as I saw it. I would also just note that I had no “cons” about the film in the conventional sense, but I did see areas where the film could have improved or expanded upon.

Pros

1: First and foremost, I really liked that the movie treated Black kids as kids. In the early scenes, a young Erik (AKA Killmonger) played by Michael B. Jordan, looks up with his friends and sees something magical leaving. This is a classic trope in Marvel films whereby, kids are able to have an imagination sparked by something that kids can only explain as “magical.” I really enjoyed seeing this moment, which is rare in a movie theatre.

2: Unfortunately for Killmonger, shortly after that, he undoubtedly has to grow up quickly, as he would soon come to learn that the “magical” thing killed his father. His character rightfully comes from a place of anger. Growing up in America after his father N’Jobu is killed, Erik has the rightful anger for his people (Black/African-American). African-Americans have lost their native tongue thanks to slavery. He is “lost,” not because he is angry, but because he had to face the traumatic experience of colonization where he grew up in poverty and faced a discriminatory society. His visit to his ancestors when he becomes King, includes him not even being able to properly mourn his father. Undoubtedly due to all of the death around him which he had to witness in the 1990s due to the U.S. infiltrating drugs into Black communities, subsequently starting a war on drugs, and the hyper-criminalization of the black body. His dead father then simply becomes another statistic. However, Erik does not. Throughout the movie, from the opening scene, one gets to understand that he is furthering the mission of his father having grown up into what his father was only able to witness in adulthood.

3: Related to my first and second pros, Erik is humanized in the film. He is not simply a villain, but the byproduct of being abandoned by his Wakandan (African) family in the homeland, and mistreated in his birth place. Killmonger was a physical embodiment of how colonizations affects the psyche of Black people globally, who can only one day dream of not being seen as less than, and having the means to “prove it.”

4: Those in Wakanda are also not blind as to what Killmonger portrays. I liked that although Wakanda was not colonized, they are not blinded by the realities of colonization and what it has done to the world. My two vivid memories of “colonized” and “colonizer” being used in the film, happens: (a)in the British Museum when Erik points out the racial micro-aggressions surrounding him (e.g. all of the artifacts in the museum as “stolen,” all the security guards watching him, and the tour guide eyeing him up and down); and (b) when Shuri (Princess of Wakanda), played by Letitia Wright, says “don’t frighten me colonizer.” In the first instance, Erik’s critique is one of circumstance and fact. In the second, Shuri’s proclamation comes from a place of power—having never been colonized.

5: The movie is also super relatable in its ability to subtly highlight things like micro-aggressions. This was important to me, since the movie was political and would have done itself a disservice by not reminding the audience that yes, the cast is Black. For instance, I remember saying “…and that’s white privilege” the first time I saw the movie, when Ulyssess Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) and his goons were able to go through the metal detectors, with weapons in Korea without hassle. Meanwhile, Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o), and T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) would not have been able to do that. Luckily for them, Wakanda’s vibranium is undetected by metal detectors.

6: BLACK FEMALE POWER.

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Cons

1: Although not technically a con, I do wish that in the end the film showed Erik being buried. He would have been the only one that we would have been able to see what a burial looks like in Wakanda. I am also curious as to what T’Challa would’ve said at his burial. Especially since his last words were to essentially dump his body in the sea like his ancestors who jumped off the slave ships since they knew that “death is better than bondage.” I felt like that was a very powerful and important line, that should have been given some type of conclusion. I am also interested as to what the ancestors, especially T’Chaka, would have told him. I am also wondering whether or not he became an ancestor to be visited…

All in all, I do recommend the movie. The first time I saw it, I felt like I was concerned as to whether the other graduate students were liking it. Because of this, I  was wondering if it was “too long,” and  would have rated it a 7/10. After watching it by myself, it felt “too short,” probably due to what I see could have been a space for expansion. I would now give it a 9/10.

Sincerely, Tawm

[it’s presently hard to find stills of the movie that go with my post]

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