The past year has been a triumph for black cinema. From Moonlight to Get Out, black filmmakers and performers are breaking records and penetrating the barrier that separated them from reaching an acceptable level of inclusivity in Hollywood for so long. Black Panther is no exception. Now more than ever, with the first black superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally getting his spotlight in a blockbuster production, it’s time for black culture to shine.
After the death of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka in Civil War, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his homeland to take on his rightful roles of king and most importantly Black Panther, the country’s official protector and symbol. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation on the planet – thanks to an abundance of the super-metal vibranium – and has remained hidden and isolated from the rest of the world for centuries, masquerading itself as a Third World country to protect its invaluable resources. T’Challa’s fate as king is put at risk when an outsider threatens to reveal the truth about Wakanda to the world, and he must do everything in his power to ensure the safety of his country and his people.
It’s fresh and revolutionary to see a film so unapologetically black in an industry where narratives about black people and their history always include extreme suffering, subjugation and violence. Think Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. What Black Panther does is acknowledge that history (a recurrent theme throughout the whole film), but it goes beyond that and gives its audience a look into what Africa could have been if it hadn’t been colonised, abused and exploited. Here, we have black people in positions of power. Yes, they still suffer. Yes, they still fight. Yes, they still bleed. But this time they’re the real protagonists, fighting for what they already have. The storyline is realistic and most importantly believable. There’s the usual superhero-film formula ‘order-villain threatens to overrule-superheroes need to fight to re-establish it’, but it doesn’t feel forced or overdone like in other MCU movies. Given the history of Africa, how could we blame Wakanda for wanting to remain hidden? How could we blame T’Challa for wanting to keep things the way they are?
The most fascinating aspect of the film is without a doubt the abundance of references to ancient African culture. The colours, the costumes, the hair, the make-up, everything gives the audience a taste of Africa and its beautiful diversity, which is rarely shown in mainstream productions. Despite the futuristic setting, the continent’s traditions really shine through and make a superhero film feel authentic.
The characters are incredible, especially the women. In that sense, Black Panther is an extremely empowering film, and not just for black women. We see warrior women, women in STEM, women in politics, who for once are not oppressed or an after-thought but key players in the fight to protect Wakanda. It’s pure magic.
Black Panther has already exceeded expectations at the box office, surpassing the $200 million threshold. Its soundtrack, a wonderful work led by Kendrick Lamar, just debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It truly doesn’t get more ground-breaking than this.
By Linda Mohamed