Black Panther: More Than Just a Superhero Movie

I wanted to publish this review when Black Panther first came out, although after writing it I decided to submit it towards my university coursework. Due to university rules and regulations, I've only just been able to publish it here.

 Black Panther has finally hit the big screen and has been enjoyed and embraced by millions across the globe! It tackles social and historical issues such as race, inequality and feminism, all whilst remaining comical and light hearted.

Black Panther is not simply another Marvel movie, filmed purely for entertainment purposes. Instead, the film enthrals its audience as it communicates the story of a flourishing African nation. The country of Wakanda is filled with strong black women, all confident within their own skin and unique in personality. And what’s even better? Each and every one of them not only embraces, but absolutely rocks their natural hair. It’s amazing to think of the thousands of little black boys and girls around the world who will be watching Black Panther and finally feeling represented. They finally get to see strong black women and superheroes, who look just like them, on the big screen.

Black Panther is based on the Marvel comic of the same title, released in 1996. It was, in fact, the first comic to feature a superhero of African descent. So far, Black Panther has grossed over $700 million worldwide, becoming thetop-grossing film with a black director. It’s also one of only four movies in history to have earnt more than $100 million in the U.S. in its second weekend. 

The story follows T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) as he returns home to the African nation of Wakanda. After the death of his father, T’Challa – otherwise known as Black Panther – must prepare to take his place on the throne. When his throne is challenged and his enemies conspire to defeat Wakanda, Black Panther does all he can to prevent the peaceful country from being dragged to war.

The movie was directed by American film director and screenwriter, Ryan Coogler. His aim in creating Black Panther was to make a movie featuring black people that presents the black community as more than a stereotype.

Black Panther’s theme is completely different to the ‘typical black movie’ that often depicts a crime-ridden city or the slave trade. These types of films often set negative stereotypes towards the black community. They dwell on the usual topics of black suffering and black poverty, rather than focusing on the many positive things the black community has achieved throughout history. Instead, Black Panther celebrates Africa and black culture from beginning to end. 

Hair is very important to much of the black community and holds an extremely high place in regards to black culture. Camille Friend, head of Black Panthers hair department, described Black Panther as ‘a totally afrocentric, natural hair movie’ in an interview with the New York Times. She claimed that ‘we’re in a moment when people are feeling empowered about being black. And that’s one thing you see when you watch “Black Panther”. The hair helps communicate that’. Black Panther’s release couldn’t have come at a better time as it coincided with Black History Month.

Black Panther also pays homage to the tribal history of Africa. The costume team took elements from Kenyan, Namibian, and South African tribes to style the film in order to reflect on Africa’s tribal diversity. 

However, not everybody has praised the movie for its all-black cast. Some people have expressed outrage through social media at the fact that there are only two white characters with lead roles, and they are both introduced as villains. This is clearly something that white people aren’t used to seeing. However, these people have nothing to say about the thousands of films featuring a principally white cast, where the only purpose of black actors is to play the token black friend, the crooked cop, or the slave? It seems that, to some, having a cast predominantly featuring one race is only acceptable when that race is Caucasian. Black Panther is a celebration of black excellence and achieves far more than any other ‘black movie’ has ever achieved, and one of the ways it’s managed to do this is through its all-black cast.

This being said, the movie is by no means perfect. Within the film, we learn that the reason Wakanda has remained so powerful and technologically advanced, is because they chose to remain neutral in situations of injustice. Rather than helping their neighbours, who were enslaved, tortured, and murdered, Wakanda did nothing about it. Their justification for this was that they were defending and protecting their people. However, this is ironic as their choice to remain neutral meant that they chose to let their kin suffer for centuries.

Although not perfect, Black Panther has a far deeper meaning than typical superhero films. Wakanda presents a fantasy of an uncolonized Africa. A look at what might have been if the land hadn’t been exploited, but allowed to develop and flourish at the hands of the natives. At the very end of the film, we see a parallel drawn to this as Erik realizes he cannot return to his homeland of Oakland, nor can he stay in Wakanda as prisoner. 

Though the whole film radiates with black history and culture, the most powerful statement was left until the end. With Killmongers last breath, he uttered the most important line of the whole film ‘Bury me in the ocean, with the rest of my ancestors who jumped ship because they knew death was better than bondage’.  The statement travels back to the dismal fate of our ancestors and reminds us of the suffering they endured with the idea that they were only set free in death.

Black Panther is a ground-breaking film, featuring a thorough exploration of race and racism, inequality, community responsibility, and so much more. It’s something that the black youth can relate to more than ever before. A film brimming with culture and black excellence, created to inspire and represent.