Black Panther? That’s NOT a Movie!

By on February 19, 2018

Last week before the Republic of Wakanda allowed visitors and cameras into its borders, there was much global discussion about Black Panther. Expectations were high and everyone was falling over themselves because it seemed like something huge was about happen. The trailers had done a good job creating all the excitement it was impossible to not buy into it. History has proven on several occasions that once a movie is as greatly hyped as Black Panther was, it often does not live up to half the hype. And so everyone waited, with bated breath.

As usual, critics swarmed the cinema halls, watched the movie and aptly pulled out their weapons, ready to dissect the Black Panther.

One by one, the reviews starting coming in. Some were really vague, not exactly telling us whether the movie was any good or not, probably for fear of stepping on toes. Others were simply full of superlatives and stopped short of calling Black Panther the finest movie of all time. Quite naturally, some were dismissive, volunteering jabs and disses about the ‘strange’ language, simple storyline, elaborate outfits and whatever else critics are kind enough to tear their claws into.

As a movie lover, I read many of these reviews with a pinch of salt mostly because they often come from a biased point of view. Of course all human beings are biased towards certain things on some level (whether they admit it or not) so to expect an entirely honest review would be asking too much. But some reviews actually border on honesty and can give you an insight into what to expect.

This is not one of them. This is a very biased review.

Anyway, having watched the movie myself (after a very elaborate preparation that involved an argument with a tailor about which colourful outfit to wear) I feel like it makes sense that I also share my opinion. Mine is not much of a review but really just an opinion about a movie that I think deserves quite a bit of conversation. I must warn you though, there might be one or two spoilers but nothing to generally ruin the movie for you. No one, absolutely no one, can and should ruin it for you.

For starters, Black Panther is one of those movies that might raise a lot of dust now but will probably raise even more dust in the future because it will be looked at as some kind of Hollywood Milestone movie. In a few years, Black Panther will join hall of fame movies like Ray, Color Purple, Training Day, Shaft, Friday, Bad Boys, Dream Girls, Love and Basketball, Coming to America, Soul Food, Boyz n the Hood and Glory among others. These are the movies that many Black families pull out on a Sunday afternoon when they are hanging with the folks and are in the mood for a good movie.

Black Panther felt like a follow up to Eddy Murphy’s 1966 romantic comedy Coming to America. The story begins in Africa, heads to the rest of the world, coming back to rest in Africa. Just like Coming to America, the protagonist prefers to be the bridge between what is and what ought to be and he seems to challenge the status quo – with a love interest lingering about.

Anyway, away from Coming to America comparisons and onto a proper break down of my thoughts around the movie.

Black Panther delivers perfectly as a movie and hits the nail on the head as a part of the bigger Marvel Universe and as a run up to Infinity War. It introduces us to a fictional country Wakanda which thrives on Vibranium, a precious metal that easily absorbs vibrations around it and whatever kinetic energy is directed at it. A lot can be done with it and as the movie mysteriously states, it is the sole reason why Wakanda is heads and shoulders above every other nation in terms of technological advancement except they have kept it a secret for centuries. The current king of Wakanda is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is exceedingly majestic as the King of Wakanda while at the same time bringing to life the deadly and ruthless character of the Black Panther. The perfect balance ensures that while he and those close to him can have warm conversations about shoes, freezing and love, he is able to put on his no-nonsense persona and do away with any threats Wakanda might have. This majestic vs deadly persona is one that he balances with so much ease it almost feels like his whole life was meant for this movie.

As a superhero, he is indestructible, fighting for all that is good and as a human being he struggles with love and legacy. The same stuff our everyday heroes battle with. On the surface we know them for their abilty to make things happen but deep down, they too have issues.

T’challa’s supporting cast in Wakanda isn’t any less effective in their portrayal of the strong pillars of defense upon which the African country rests. For Wakanda to protect its wealthy secret from the rest of the world, there was always need to create an air tight system thatmade sure of this. Director Ryan Coogler made good work of the Dora Milaje, the women protecting Wakanda. Between Ayo (Florence Kasumba), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Xoliswa (Sydelle Noel) and the rest of the Dora Milaje, the film brings to life what seems like a brutal and fierce team of warriors who will live, fight and die for Wakanda. Marvel perfectly shows their allegiance to the greater cause when a new yet unwanted king becomes the Black Panther albeit momentarily. Their allegiance is always to the throne.

The king’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is, as are most royal mothers, graceful and elegant not just in how she dresses but in everthing she says. Bassett is notoriously brilliant for wearing her emotions on her face and in this movie she does just that – she brings emotion to the otherwise action packed story.  Perfectly balancing T’Challa’s otherwise cold demeanour. This also ties in well with the king’s little playful but innovative sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who offers the king the much needed tech support. She too is a fighter, as are all, if not all the women in Wakanda except she uses technology.

Mess with them at your own risk! (Internet Photo)

Wakanda’s high priest, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) is in his element in the entire movie. As the custodian to the throne and the king maker, he dispatches of his ceremonial duties with finesse one would think he is secretly a fortune teller form somewhere on the African continent. The one however that makes me smile the most is probably M’Baku (Winston Duke) who as expected, had ladies opening their eyes wide and wagging their tongues with thirst. His humour was a great addition to the already enjoyable story and so was his strong physical presence.

The one element of Black Panther that probably deserves the most credit is the villain. In Micheal B Jordan, Black Panther introduces us to a villain who has grown up with one thing on his mind – taking the throne. People of that kind are not easy to do away with and they will often do whatever it takes to get what they want. It therefore comes as no surprise that we learn of Killmonger’s life long ambition to kill his way to the throne – carefully registering each kill on his elaborately marked body. His partnership with senseless arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is one that also clearly shows how everyone can want a piece of the pie for different reasons. It is a winner takes all situation for the two. This is a refreshing role for Andy Serkies who is more popular as Caeser from Planet of the Apes, Golum from Lord of the Rings or Supreme Leader Snoke from Star Wars, basically as a non-human.

The fight scenes are quite thrilling with each of the characters given an opportunity to showcase what they are good at. Nakia with the strategy, Okoye with the skills, W’kabi with the leadership, Shuri with the technology, Klaw with the fearelessness (and the arm), Erik with the experience and non-freezing Black Panther with the deadly precision. Everything is tied in well with well choreographed fight scenes spread throughout the film so there is no room for dosing.

The costume design is quite breathtaking as well. With hair styles, body art, outfits, regalia and make up from all over the continent, it is safe to say that every African will see a bit of their culture in this movie. Of course there are arguments around the fact that the habit of regarding Africa as a country and summing us all up into one huge culture is not necessarily the most ideal thing but there might not be too many complaints this time round. The language that Wakandans speak is based on South Africa’s Xhosa language, the native tongue for people like Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba, Trevor Noah, Miriam Makeba, John Kani among others.

Black Panther movie as part of the entire Marvel Universe brings to light the fact that maybe when Thanos eventually shows up in infinity War, the Wakandans will have something substantial to say. King T’challa will most likely offer his leadership if the world as we know is to stand any chance against Thanos. For once in a very long time, it is likely that the battle with celestial beings will happen with massive support from Africa. Now that is quite something.

The finest photoshoot of all time. (Internet Photo)

Most times when I get into a movie I am keen to know what the music is like. Very few movies can survive with a horrible sound track. Ludwig Göransson who was selected to compose a score for the movie was careful enough to do quite a bit of traveling before composing one. He traveled to South Africa and Senegal to get inspiration for the sounds. And Ryan Coogler could not have picked a better person than Kendrick Lamar for the curated soundtrack. The result is a symphony of sorts that drifts between (and adequately fuses) traditional African sounds and modern artistic sounds.

The cultural significance of Black Panther cannot be overstated because as was noticed at various Cinemas across the world, Africans flocked the screening of the movie dressed in the most elaborate of outfits. This, is not something that can simply be swept under the rug. The last time something like this happened was, well, never!

Hollywood is notorious for giving Africa the dimmer limelight but this time round, just like the time Barack Obama swore in for the first time and we all felt like he was going to be our president, Black Panther is Marvel’s greatest offer to date and I will join the rest of the Africans in claiming it as our own.

See that guy standing next to King T’Challa? In Wakanda he goes by the name W’Kabi but back here in Uganda where he is from we call him Daniel Kaluuya. (Internet Photo)

Oh Look, another Ugandan! You might know her as Ayo of Wakanda but we know her as Florence Kasumba the Ugandan. It would have been sacrilegious of me to not give a special shout out to Daniel and Florence who are representing Uganda. (Internet Photo)

Now, away from the Ugandan elements of the movie and back to the fact that Black Panther is not just a random movie but rather a proper conversation starter. Did I mentiont that this movie performs brilliantly well on the bechdel test? It brings to light several important elements about the role of women in society and how they are pillars in more ways than we care to mention. Now, that is not stuff movies do quite a lot.

Black Panther is not a movie. It is more than that, it is a milestone, a beginning of something big and a reason for Africans to think long and hard about their role in the World today. Black Panther is a ground breaking story unfortunatley is fictional but is very indicative of what the world today would be if we as Africans had put up our defences against certain external influences.

Black Panther is now officially the highest grossing film in history by a (black) director (Ryan Coogler) featuring a cast that is predominantly Black. Previously, the record was held by Straight Outta Compton, which took home a whooping $214 million worldwide in 2015, and this was over its entire run. Black Panther collected $218 million in just its opening weekend and from the look of things, the collections are going to be coming in for quite a while. I have a few friends who have sworn that they will watch it a few more times – for Wakanda! Why not? After all, it is more than just a movie.

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.” ― Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

a.k.a Beewol
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