Black Panther Review (2018): A Vibrant Utopia of Hope and Vibranium

Black Panther Review (2018): A Vibrant Utopia of Hope and Vibranium
courtesy of Marvel Studios

The symbolism and parallelism runs deep throughout the 'Black Panther' film. It reveals divisiveness between tribes and obsession with power. However, it also addresses healing, hope, and restoration. In this Marvel Universe, many many years ago, a foreign alien metal called vibranium lands in the Congo region of Africa. A new society was developed into five main tribes and called Wakanda. The king of the five tribes ingested a mixture of vibranium to take on superhuman characteristics to become Black Panther only after he had proven his worthiness. This warrior-king is both the protector of Wakanda and has roots connecting to the Black Panther-god, Bast.

This story’s origin is of two brothers, King T’Chaka (John Kani) and Prince N’ Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). T’Chaka wanted to remain in society and preserve Wakanda and the vibranium from the corruption of the outside world. The other, N’Jobu wished to share Wakanda’s vibranium technology with the oppressed people of the world. They were at odds about how to deal with sharing this power. In many tales, there are two sons. One son chooses one path and the other diverges onto a different path. This symbolizes the theory of duality.There are dire consequences of how these families have chosen to commit their lives. The two sons symbolizes the African nations and the sons and daughters sold into slavery, oppressed, or that have gone astray from the motherland.

I have to admit I went into the film cold, not knowing much about the fictional comic history of Wakanda or Black Panther other than from the Avengers. The film briefly explains the meteor that crashed onto earth and the region of Wakanda that was built and thrived for many generations upon the alien substance vibranium. King T’Chaka dies in an explosion (from the 'Avengers: Civil War' universe) and the throne is passed onto his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who admits he may be uneasy about becoming the new king of Wakanda so quickly. This installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was written by Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler, and directed by Ryan Coogler (based on characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby). Producer, Kevin Feige made a wise decision by selecting a young black director that was a traditional fan of Black Panther and great collaborative visionary. Other producers include Victoria Alonso , Jeffrey Chernov, Louis D'Esposito, David J. Grant, Nate Moore, and Stan Lee.

courtesy of Marvel Studios

courtesy of Marvel Studios

Wakanda exists as an evolved technological society of invisibility. It’s advancements include raw heart shaped herb garden of vibranium, vibranium beads, Black Panther kinesthetically adaptive necklace, Dora Milaje (female warriors) costumes and weaponry, hoovercrafts and other flying crafts. The visual effects and graphics showcases action scenes, medicinal advancements, weaponry, transportation and communication. Cinematographer, Rachel Morrison (along with Coogler) accomplishes high distinction at emphasizing the stunning shots created by this amazing Afro-futuristic world. Strong examples of this would be the entering into the city of Wakanda, fight scenes, facial reactions to events, and transportation scenes. Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart provide spectacular production designs and set decorations. The brilliance of Ruth E. Carter shines through on the overpowering, prominent colorful details in costuming with the help of depictions of the Marvel comic book character illustrations. Also, 'Black Panther' writers Reginald Hudlin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Evan Narcisse are examples of prime contributors to the development of the story of 'Black Panther 'for the comics and the film.

T’Challa is surrounded by strong black female characters. Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) does not skip a beat. She has mourned her husband’s death, but welcomes her son’s role as next king of Wakanda without hesitation or wavering. T’Challa’s 16-year old sister, princess Shuri (Leticia Wright) is a technological young genius and supports her brother, adding a whimsical and humorous tone to the film. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) plays T’Challa’s ex-lover, a Wakandan spy (War Dog) who takes on special assignments. She is both enticing as well as lethal. Okoye (Danai Gurira), is a Wakandan from the Border Tribe and head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female warriors, who protect King T'Challa and the throne of Wakanda. She is fierce, unyielding and a powerful force to be reckoned with.

This was a pivotal film because it highlights strong black roles for women and young girls (especially dark skinned females). It counteracts fallacious theories that black people come from origins of historically underdeveloped nations. These positive images and stories need to be represented more often. Quite often, people of color, especially black persons are construed as inferior with stereotypical images such as: buffoons/lacking intelligence, thuggish/violent, prostitutes, or just plain savages.

Black male characters (all strong):
Erik “Killmonger” Stevens aka N’Jadaka is a U.S. soldier with a personal agenda. He represents the lost generation of Africans sold into slavery and (poor, disenfranchised, living in ghettos, etc) the forgotten suffering brothers and sisters in the new world. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) also wants to fight for the throne of Wakanda. His methods are barbaric and less-traditional. He hopes to fight for those underdeveloped countries that need the new technology to overthrow their oppressors. He doesn’t care about killing whomever gets in his way. Killmonger thrived on the revenge of his father’s death, Prince N’Jobu. This obsession kept him in mental bondage. Symbolically, he represents those scarred by violence, death and suffering which T’Chaka began the vicious cycle of leaving Erik behind as a boy. Killmonger also made up in his mind how Wakanda should be run contrary to its history of peace and isolation. Michael B. Jordan does a believable portrayal of a ruthless unstoppable rogue.

King T’Challa is played by John Kani. Although he has died, T’Chaka has a special message for his son through ritual ceremony. He has maintained a world of secrecy, but has unsuspectingly passed on a legacy of tragedy to his son T’Challa (by hiding the truth). Zuri (Forest Whitaker) is an elder and advisor to the king of Wakanda. He is keeper of the herb garden and former confidant and spy for King T’Chaka.W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) friend of T’Challa, and lover of Okoye, lost his parents by the hands of villain Ulysses Klaue. W’kabi wants avenge his parents by killing Klaue or having him brought back to Wakanda to be tried for his crimes. W'kabi is blinded by his passion for justice and falls victim to hunger for power, authority, and justice. The Jabari tribe is one of the five tribes of Wakanda (who is isolated from the rest in the mountains). The leader of the Jabari Tribe is M'Baku (Winston Duke). He is a courageous, ambitious, and yet a realistic man; a man of strong character and morals, who represents his tribe well. Winston Duke depicts his character well because although fixed in his ways and determined, shows change of heart over time.

Non-black characters:
Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is a CIA operative represented as helpful to the Wakandans, but only because he is powerless against their technological advancements. He fights for the truth that he observes, but poses as an impending threat of exposing the secret Wakanda society. Freeman does an exceptional job as acting clueless an unsuspecting.

Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is an arms dealer and previously worked with Prince N’jobu to smuggle vibranium out of Wakanda. Klaue has one arm and uses an instrument of vibranium as a weapon for his other arm. Serkis does a great job at portraying a insane giggling, villain.

'Black Panther' has an amazing cast of talented award-winning actors and actresses. I found it difficult to critique this film. There are hardly any flaws in the character arcs and each actor or actress was rightfully cast. These characters are strong men and women that are entrenched in a culture of honor and legends among a hidden world.

'Black Panther' has been one of the best developed superhero universes I have seen. It is the first culture of black people in the Marvel Universe that shows domination, power, and a highly advanced society. The power/sovereignty originates in the motherland of Africa, but the film recognizes the struggle among African nations as well as the streets of Oakland, Englewood, or Harlem, etc. T’Challa and W’Kabi at some point realize in their own way that the oppressed people have been suffering long enough.

It takes a village to make a child. When the streets raise a man or a woman; It is no good. He/she will always choose the animal instinct instead of the honorable thing. Maybe not because he/she is evil, but because it is a trained pattern of behavior and that is the only thing they know.

This 'Black Panther”'world represents hope mostly for the black community and people of color, but promises a bright future for all nations contingent upon sharing of peace with preservation and development of all of humanity in the most positive and globally efficient capacity. I felt that Coogler and Marvel bringing in fresh blood and collaborators made the film more effective and believable allowing for a greater perspective of black voices collectively.

This film sets a model for excellence and what an African culture or a black utopian society would or could be. There are places in Africa that are beautiful that no one cares about or are exploited. T’Challa finally recognizes what needs to be done. The chains of the cycle of leaving our brothers and sisters behind can be no more. He picks up the helm while inheriting his father’s contributions as well as mistakes. This films reminds me of 'The Lion King' because of the connection to honor, legend, deceit within families, suffering, death, and finally hope and restoration. "Black Panther" has similar plot points to 'The Lion King'. The King (Mufasa) is killed at the hands of a family member. Young Simba must claim his throne and prove that he is the new king once and for all with the help of his friends and family, while getting the girl. 'Black Panther' had similar points; King T'Chaka dies, T'Challa to secure the throne, save the kingdom, fight the familial enemy, get the girl.

I find it refreshing that the film focused on rebuilding the poor and impoverished neighborhoods. These are due to the mistakes of slavery, where brothers have gone to war and sold each other.This film sets a model  for excellence and what an African culture or a black utopian society would or could be. There are places in Africa that are beautiful that no one cares about or are exploited.'Black Panther' addresses the issues of healing between the motherland and finding our lost brothers and sisters. Wakanda must decide to help and heal or to remain in seclusion and watch the world destroy itself from war, famine etc. What will they finally do?

The songs in the 'Black Panther' soundtrack that played through my head often are Kendrick Lamar's 'Pray for Me' and his collaboration with SZA on “All the Stars”. This story is a magical and unprecedented revelation of what we could be. This is a film about dreams and improving humanity. It’s the first superhero universe with a predominantly black cast, which is rooted in the motherland Africa. Ryan Coogler and his team researched the importance of resources, development in the fictitious region of Wakanda, and the real Congo region. He collaborated with the best writers, costume designers, musicians, and historians of various countries in Africa other nations around the world.

Overall, this film is visually stunning and proves to be a well flushed out script with vibrant and determined characters in a possible futuristic world of promising hope and resolution for poverty and war. I give this film 4 stars out of 4! 'Black Panther' is more than a superhero-Marvel universe. It addresses the need for help and healing for black and melanin colored bodies in history, rooted in spirituality, honor, tradition, legends, as well as acknowledgement for global responsibility and collaboration for people in need. 'Black Panther' provides an understanding of the mending of thousands of years of pain and suffering. A possible blueprint for a global solution. 'Black Panther' suggests that Africa is the answer that we have been waiting for. It is an Afro-futuristic society that can heal us if the world will ever let it come to pass.... a future of great endless possibilities.

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