So I want to share some of my random thoughts on ‘Black Panther’ and although you may be thinking this post is slightly ‘off brief’, I’d argue that the film does showcase the talents of several black British actors who have Caribbean roots, so hopefully I’m more than justified in critiquing it on this blog.
Disclaimer: If you don’t want to know what happens in the movie then I suggest you look away right now.
First of all, I haven’t been so excited to see a film since, well, as long as I can remember.
I’m a sci-fi fan and have seen a lot of the Marvel movies, but none have made me feel anything like this one, and even before the opening scene I was ready to give the film 10 out of 10 just for making me excited to go to the cinema again.
So let me start with what I liked about the film – everything!!!
Just kidding, but I loved pretty much everything that matters – the cast and casting, the story arc, the pace, the visual effects, the script, the costumes, the characters etc etc.
Black Panther oozes style and class, and that’s not just because it’s filled with some of the best looking ‘brothas and sistas’ ever (one friend said “there aren’t any ugly people in it!”), but also because this is a film that’s aware of how it’s speaking for a community – and it has a lot to say!
There aren’t many films that transcend the movie industry and represent something more, but this film is definitely one of them.
Before I went to watch it, some friends who’d seen it before me said it filled them with pride in their blackness. They were uplifted to see people who looked like them referred to as kings and queens, and it made them feel even better to see these people with their natural hair, wearing African clothing, and kicking ass!
Some of my friends said the movie also made them proud of how many amazingly talented black people there are in the world right now, taking centre-stage in more ways than one, and using their platforms to make powerful statements.
Black Panther speaks to, and for us, and it spoke to me as not just a movie about what might have been had Africa never been colonised and our ancestors never been stolen from their land, but as to what we are capable of achieving when we treat each other as the royalty we are, and unshackle (not uncouple) our minds from the past.
Now we all want to live in Wakanda, and why not? It is obviously ideal – the sunsets are beautiful, it appears to have no crime, the people love themselves and how they look because they haven’t been influenced by a disapproving outside world, men and women have equal rights to contribute and reach their full potential – I could go on and on.
Of course you might say, it’s a fictional country so it would be perfect, but the premise remains that this points to what is possible and what heights people can reach when there are no limits.
Trouble only arrives in Wakanda from outsiders who want to use the country’s precious and mystical substance, Vibranium, for something evil.
And that is where the main protagonist comes in. An outsider, who is actually half Wakandan, in the form of villain Eric Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) who has plans to depose the popular and much-loved new King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), steal the throne, distribute Vibranium to the black masses and force the country and its people into the world spotlight.
Killmonger wants to ‘liberate’ black people around the globe by arming them with Wakandan technology and encouraging them to use violence to take power from the predominantly white governments who have oppressed them for centuries.
I had mixed-feelings about Eric, and I actually read an interesting article after watching the film which expertly examined the character, and made me realise why I didn’t dislike him.
It argued, among other things, that Eric is not a ‘traditional villain’ mainly because the kernel behind his plan (to lift up black people who’ve been oppressed and beaten down for so long) is not really evil but is something a lot of us want, and is even actually what is partially put in motion at the end of the film.
We might not like how Eric proposes to go about it, but it’s not difficult to get on board with the idea of making the world more equal for all races by overthrowing the overt and covert racism which infiltrates the fabric of most Western societies.
I presume the varying methods of Eric and T’Challa were meant to echo the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr during the American Civil Rights struggle – that’s certainly what I got from their intense dialogue and fighting scenes.
We all know that with those two individuals, even though the ideal was the same – black liberation – how they wanted to go about it was markedly different (at least initially).
But in the end Eric is defeated, although not necessarily because of what he wanted for his people, but more because of his lust for power, which even led to him destroying Wakanda’s long-established succession plans (in the form of a field of Vibranium), making it clear that he had no intention of ever leaving the throne and pitting him against the people he wanted to rule.
Eric did not appreciate the rituals of the kingdom, and wanted to control Wakanda in an oppressive fashion, which mirrored the tactics of the colonists he was supposed to despise (and some African leaders since then as well).
He said he’d learned from them how to take what you wanted, but he had not learned that this method is unsustainable, as human beings are not the easiest animals to dominate for too long. Eventually we will plot, plan, scheme and overthrow because the human spirit is even stronger than Vibranium, and can never be oppressed to the same degree as the human body.
I went to Africa last year, and one of the most moving sites I visited was the slave museum in Zanzibar, which is built on the site where slaves were held before being shipped thousands of miles from Africa – never to return.
Outside the museum there is a monument which consists of five slaves in a pit who are chained together at the neck – the chain is an original (let that sink in) and signals the terror and bloodshed which took place on this historic site.
In the cramped and claustrophobic chambers beneath the museum, I received a horrifying firsthand glimpse of what black people went through as they waited to be hauled onto ships that would take them to Europe, the Caribbean and North America.
These chambers are so small that even me, at just over 5ft tall, could not stand up straight in some places. I broke down and sobbed as I imagined the hundreds of men, women and children who were kept in those holes, standing in their own waste, crying and dying where they stood, all because they had dark skin.
I say all of this to demonstrate just one of the reasons why Black Panther has become such a ‘moment’ for the black community and why it meant so much to me.
A black director, black screen writers, black producers, black actors and actresses et al in a multi-million dollar (maybe soon to be billion dollar) Hollywood movie, rightly fills us with pride, and most importantly of all with hope.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting swept up in some sort of ‘Obama is President, racism is dead’, hysteria – I’ve been around too long to fall for that (and look who we have now – racist in chief!).
But I can’t help but think that this movie, along with other slight but ongoing tremors such as ‘Black Girl Magic’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, the natural hair movement, and black people in general increasingly owning and loving their skin colour, are all signs that we are maturing as a race and reaching a place of no return, where black people know, and truly believe, that ‘we control we’ and there is nothing we cannot do.
I urge you to go and watch the film, and if you’ve already seen it, go and see it again and again and again – as many times as it takes to fill you with the mantra that ‘individually we are can make a difference, but collectively we can change the world’.