Greetings, noble citizens of Wakanda and all True Believers –
I don’t know what you did with your weekend but I was brimming with excitement for Marvel’s newest blockbuster and couldn’t miss the opening of Black Panther. The anticipation has been steadily building over the last few months (and the last two years, to be honest, since the character’s introduction in Captain America: Civil War). As this weekend approached that buzz crackled with life, with theaters across the country selling out to long lines full of smiles and exciting fashion, taking a lead from the ebullient Hollywood premiere.
And the movie was good, really good. Vibrant characters and imagery, well-timed humor, action, heart, and a direction style all its own. The central conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger, the familiar ‘what does it mean to be a hero?’ conflict, is both organically woven and smartly, uniquely relevant. As resident comic nerd and lead MCU writer here at #JPLMagazine, I knew it would be difficult to contain my desire to detail my trip to Wakanda. Instead, though, I’ll be using this space to point you toward reviews and other insightful pieces about the movie from African-American journalists.
***SPOILER WARNING Here cometh the SPOILER WARNING***
Reading on assumes that you are prepared to hear details about Black Panther and other Marvel Cinematic Universe films (#ItsAllConnected). You have been warned and informed. Carry on.
***SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING***
Black Panther: Cast of Heroes
There are various layers and aspects to enjoy about Black Panther, not the least of which is the brilliance of the members of its nearly all-black cast. The women of the film in particular have garnered worthy fan attention, standing not as secondary figures to Wakanda’s men but as strong, fierce, and genius figures in their own right. Danai Gurira as Okoye leading the Dora Milaje let us know in early previews these women were a force not to be trifled with. But it is the understated strength of Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and the scene-stealing performance of Letitia Wright as Shuri that leave indelible marks. The brilliance of Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya, and of course Chadwick Boseman are all noted here by Reggie Ugwu for the New York Times.
Black Panther: Costume Design
The film owes much of its memorable visual palette to its vibrant and fantastic costume design, created by Ruth Carter (Malcolm X, Amistad, Selma). Writing here for The Atlantic, Tanisha C. Ford, author and associate professor of Africana Studies at Delaware University, explores Carter’s design in detail, its historical and modern African fashion inspirations, and whether “Afrofuturism” is a full enough term to capture Carter’s work.
Black Panther: Do Believe the Hype
It would be hard to dispute that one of the most noticeable aspects to 2018’s first superhero movie is the large, palpable buzz surrounding its release. There may be those who can’t understand the significance (“What about Wesley Snipes in Blade?” they ask) but it’s impossible for anyone to deny the enthusiastic statement made at the box office to the tune of $242M over the 4-day weekend.
In the February TIME Magazine cover story, Jamil Smith takes us through the facets of the film’s cultural impact: the portrayal of strong, heroic characters in which black folks, and kids specifically, can see themselves reflected, the themes of black identity presented outside familiar tropes and in an international context, and the importance of a record-setting blockbuster “this splendidly black” towards altering the workings of an industry largely uninvested in telling the stories of, for, and by black people.
“I know people [in the entertainment industry] are going to see this and aspire to it,” Boseman says. “But this is also having people inside spaces—gatekeeper positions, people who can open doors and take that idea. How can this be done? How can we be represented in a way that is aspirational?”
Black Panther: Born a Leader
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe moves forward into Phase 4 with/after Avengers: Infinity War, Wakanda and Black Panther are poised to take on an ethical and technological leadership role. The success of the films that thus far comprise the MCU depends on good, believable but bold storytelling. The best few in the franchise – the first Iron Man, all three Captain America‘s but especially The First Avenger, both Guardians of the Galaxy volumes – do so with a style unique to their character(s), bringing to life the particular beauty of their source material in fuller but organic ways. Black Panther succeeds in both.
For opening weekend sales, Black Panther ranks as the second-highest grossing, behind only The Avengers, among the 18 MCU movies. In February.
And to its ability to capture an audience, to build an excitement through connection on a cultural level that cannot be faked or manufactured through marketing, there are no challengers.