Black Panther (Directed by Ryan Coogler), 2018.

With Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Lupita Nyongo (Nakia), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi).

 

BP poster

Wakanda is a mythical country in central Africa, a utopian state, reached only by special transport underground though the landscape has many plants so benefits from photosynthesis.  Five tribes fight each other for dominance.  The secrets of its power lie in the blue plants with healing properties found in the rainforest, and in its special mineral, vibranium which has super strength.

The movie lays out its back story, and then begins the conflict when the king is assassinated which requires his son to face off in battle with the head of each tribe willing to challenge him.  These opening scenes so crammed with CGI details are a bit stodgy, and lay heavy on the mano a mano battle.  Our hero, T’Challa, prevails, making peace with his opponent.  However another challenger will arrive threatening the whole idyllic way of life for Wakanda.

Women such as T’challa’s ex (Nakia), ( Lupita Nyongo), and T’challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), demonstrate their power politically and intellectually by questioning why the country isn’t doing more to help those with less, and by creating the technology that makes that way of life possible.

Lupita, sister

Lupita Nyongo and Letitia Wright

However, this is a superhero movie, so the battles take up at least fifty percent of the time, and they seemed to take a long time.  I have a hard time with fantasy so I am not the demographic for this movie.  But what is the demographic exactly for this movie?  While it seems pitched for young black males, several of my older white women friends dashed out to see it.  That it took until 2018 to have a breakthrough film made about black culture, written and directed by a black man, filmed by a black cinematographer, is a sign that it is way overdue.  Hollywood cannot solve its diversity problems with one movie, but it is a step in the right direction.  The demographic for this movie is everyone.

The conflict: between the older heir to the throne, and the younger upstart less woke cousin whose appetite for aggression threatens everyone.  There are links between the kingdom of Wakanda and the public housing projects of Oakland.  I did not check the historical veracity of whether the Black Panther political movement got started there, but the child actor who plays Mankiller does much with little as he stares up at the window of his apartment, and into the sky where a magical vehicle flies from Oakland to Wakanda bearing those superheroes away, leaving behind his dead father, and a taste for revenge.  The deeper part of the story that touched me had to do with this being left behind, and being permanently damaged by that.  There is a political yearning throughout the movie.  The king of Wakanda picks up the mantle of many activists and reformers.  Chadwick Boseman’s face reflects the soulful quest of creating a just world.

chadwick

Wakanda looks like a very smartly designed, technologically proficient land where everyone seems to get along (except for those tribes who thirst for the power of the black panthers).

It is hard to tell how much of the movie was photographed outside a studio or without CGI which gives it a very artificial cartoony feel, but that is how most superhero movies are, and why I avoid them.  The absence of natural light makes me long for it.  Combine that with the very loud soundtrack that enhances the pitched battle scenes, and I reveal myself as an old crank who never even liked Star Wars movies when they originally came out because these are movies that glorify war as a way to resolve conflict, and I am deep down a pacifist.

However, if you have to have a superhero movie with all of the male conflicts and battles with cool gadgets, it is gratifying to have someone as perfectly cast as Letitia Wright in the role of T’challa’s sister,  Shuri.  She provides some comic relief combined with peerless braininess, a winning combination.  Martin Freeman stands in as the one white guy who is not evil, and actually helpful to the cause.   The other white man, a villain named Claue is laughably played and must laugh endlessly — poor Andy Serkis. This is a poorly written part poorly acted.  The relief from these scenes of relentless carnage came for me with the line:  Guns! So primitive! from Okoye, one of the King’s protectors, a bald woman who can do amazing things with her spear.

Overall  I admire the movie for its powerful storytelling, its exceptional cast, the styling of the women’s hair (!), costumes, and closing line which leaves the question unanswered by T’Challa: Who are you?

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About Patricia Markert

Moviegoer.
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