Black Panther Inspires Awe On-Screen and in Real Life

March 6, 2018 | By Carolyn Noyes

The explosive response that Marvel’s “Black Panther” has received in just a few weeks made it difficult to go into the film’s screening without heightened expectations. The film has been lauded for being both an exemplary superhero story and one of the most empowering African-American films in recent memory. Having experienced it on the big screen, I can say that you don’t need to worry — “Black Panther” lives up to the hype.

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Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

“Black Panther” centers around King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of Wakanda, an African nation that is unparalleled in technological advancements, but disguises itself as a developing country to evade outsiders’ attention. The secret to Wakanda’s incredible technology, as well as T’Challa’s Black Panther super-powers, is an element called vibranium. The use of this element is the center of the film’s conflict - do Wakandans provide aid to struggling countries by sharing their vibranium, or keep it protected for their own citizens? The country’s “Wakanda Forever” motto has kept T’Challa hesitant to take in refugees or engage in activism for actual developing countries. T’Challa’s love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) believes that Wakanda has a duty to help those in need, and the film’s impactful villain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) aims to use vibranium to launch a worldwide revolution that would remove white oppressors from power. 

If this dilemma sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone - many critics have noticed parallels between the politics of Wakanda and the United States. A review on the alt-right website Breitbart went so far as to declare that “Black Panther” was a pro-Trump, anti-Black Lives Matter commentary. I found the opposite to be true, as I can only assume anyone who actually paid attention to the film would. Boseman himself has said that T’Challa more closely resembles a villain at the beginning of “Black Panther,” and it is worth noting that the character’s eventual saviors are his own past acts of generosity and mercy. On the other hand, Killmonger is a sympathetic villain (especially for a superhero flick) with understandable motivation; while his methods are cause for alarm, the pain and experience behind his worldview is conveyed as quite valid. Between its politics and the sheer fact that it is the first film of its kind to feature a nearly all-POC cast, there is no disguising “Black Panther” as anything but progressive.

While the film’s plot has a firm political stance, the incredible visuals of “Black Panther” make just as much of a statement in their celebration of African culture. The film’s canvas is its seamless combination of futuristic architecture and technology with the natural beauty of Sub-Saharan landscapes. This canvas is painted with Ruth E. Carter’s stunning technicolor costume design, which again is a perfect blend of typical superhero fare and traditional African clothing. The film’s more subdued moments were just as captivating as its fight scenes, thanks to these visuals, the likes of which I haven’t seen at the movies in quite some time. My only complaint lies with the film’s often-shaky camerawork - it was nauseating at times and detracted from the visual splendor it was trying to capture.

“Black Panther” not only has  a complex hero and villain, but an astonishingly dynamic supporting cast, with highlights including Nyong’o as well as Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s spunky, tech-genius little sister. These characters are strong and intelligent, but are not confined to stoicism: “Black Panther” is hilarious at times too. The comedic moments in this film felt more natural than those in past Marvel features, such as this summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

The film’s record-breaking revenue and representation were frequent talking points at the 2018 Academy Awards, and social media has been buzzing with discussion on the impact of finally seeing black superheroes in film. Every aspect of “Black Panther,” from the double-entendre of its title to its powerhouse soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar, works to make up for decades of nothing but whitewashed superhero movies. One blockbuster is certainly not enough to end the battle for better racial representation in cinema, but “Black Panther” is a fantastic step forward.