A Meow-velous New Addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
By Cheyenne Sykes
Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 4:04 PM PDT
Thursday, February 15th, my life as a movie-goer changed forever. Marvel’s Black Panther was absolutely fantastic and game-changing, not only for its cultural impact, but for its message and apparently universal personal impact. The movie broke records before its release according to CBS News, and Box Office Mojo reported that Black Panther made just over $202 million in its opening weekend, coming in just behind Marvel’s Avengers in 2012 which made a little over $207 million. At press time, Black Panther has hit the $1billion dollar mark in the box office, but this number may continue to rise as more people go to see the film.
On the Rotten Tomatoes website, the Black Panther film has a 96% approval rating among the critics, and a 77% score with audiences, with the critics consensus being: “Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU's most absorbing stories -- and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.” On Box Office Mojo, in the Origin Film category, it is the highest ranking film in the genre.
While the statistics speak volumes on their own, the story itself is a beautiful showcase of culture, including Afro-futurism and tradition. In the beginning of the film, a father tells the story of The Kingdom of Wakanda, his home, to his son.
"Millions of years ago, a meteorite made of Vibranium, the strongest substance in the universe, struck the continent of Africa, affecting the plant life around it. And when the time of men came, five tribes settled on it and called it Wakanda. The tribes lived in constant war with each other, until a warrior shaman received a vision from the panther goddess Bast, who led him to the Heart-Shaped Herb, a plant that granted him superhuman strength, speed and instincts. The warrior became king and the first Black Panther, the protector of Wakanda. Four tribes agreed to live under the king's rule, but the Jabari Tribe isolated themselves in the mountains. The Wakandans used vibranium to develop technology more advanced than any other nation, but as Wakanda thrived, the world around it descended further into chaos. To keep vibranium safe, the Wakandans vowed to hide in plain sight, keeping the truth of their power from the outside world."
Chadwick Boseman reprises his titular role as T’Challa or Black Panther. Created by comic legends Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the character Black Panther is the first black mainstream comic book hero, and first appeared in Fantastic Four issue #52, in July of 1966, a time when racism and tension were at a high, and the Civil Rights Movement, along with the Black Panther Party, were fighting for the rights of Black men, women and children all over the world, but primarily in the United States. He appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time in Captain America: Civil War, and has been a personal favorite of mine since his appearance. He is the sovereign ruler of Wakanda in this film, but his character development is very well rounded and his personal journey throughout the film is fantastic to see. In one of the mid credit scenes, he is speaking at the United Nations where he says,“We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
Letitia Wright portrays Shuri, Princess of Wakanda, and T’Challa’s sister. She is the “Tony Stark” (Iron Man) of Wakanda. She is on the same intellectual level of Stark, in the sense that she is an engineer and scientist, while also being a princess. Simultaneously, she leads the “Design Team” which helps to create new tech for Wakanda, and in the movie, she helps to design the new and improved Black Panther suit. In the movie she assists her brother, T’Challa when he is on missions, and helps to reclaim the throne later in the film. In the beginning, she says to him, “Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” John Kani returns as King T'Chaka for brief moments in the film as an advisor to his son, T’Challa, when he is crowned king. While he is only there for a small amount of time, it’s really touching to see his relationship with his son, even in death. There was a really poignant moment between himself and T’Challa. When his son is crowned king, a Wakandan tradition is going to the ancestral plane and visiting the ones you have lost. When T’Challa says that he is not ready, T’Chaka asks his son if he has not prepared him for his time to be king, to which T’Challa says “That’s not what I mean … I am not ready to be without you.” T’Chaka then replies with, “A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.”
Michael B. Jordan portrays T’Challa’s rival N'Jadaka or Erik Killmonger. There is a consensus among comic book movie fans, that Killmonger may be one of the best Marvel villain to date. Unlike other villains, like Red Skull in Captain America or Loki in The Avengers, Killmonger has a very relatable reason for wanting to take the throne. While his methods are brash, impulsive and driven by hatred, I understood that he just wanted to make sure that his “people” (assuming that he means the black community) are safe from being oppressed from others like they have been in the past. Near the end of the movie, Killmonger has a very powerful message. While in a brief conversation with T’Challa, Killmonger says, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage.” It’s a message that should resonate with the black community, in regards to the ancestors of both myself and the colored community, relating to the U.S. during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and in Africa, both then and now. In an interview with The New York Times, Director Ryan Coogler said, “The fracture that Killmonger has, that’s the fracture I lived with my whole life. I’m from a place that I’d never been to.”
Let’s talk about Black Panther: The Album. Let alone the fact that it was co-produced by twelve time Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, which alone should motivate you to listen to and buy the album, it features contemporary artists including The Weeknd, SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Travis Scott,while also welcoming California natives including Sacramento rap group SOB X RBE, and South African artists Babes Wodumo, Yugen Blakrok and Sjava. In an interview with Variety, Lamar had this to say about the album, “Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Panther’ is amazing, from its cast to its director. The magnitude of this film showcases a great marriage of art and culture. I’m truly honored to contribute my knowledge of producing sound and writing music alongside [director] Ryan [Coogler] and Marvel’s vision.” My personal favorite tracks are ‘Paramedic!,’ ‘Pray For Me,’ ‘All The Stars,’ ‘The Ways,’ and ‘X.’ From a music nerd sandpoint, it’s a gorgeous marriage of traditional African drumming and contemporary rap and hip-hop. It’s a beautiful and moving compilation, despite the fact that it’s not “traditional” or light hearted like Guardians of The Galaxy and their ‘Awesome Mix’ volumes one and two. Like New York Times reporter Jon Pareles said, “Those aren’t problems that a song or a superhero can solve. But if ‘Black Panther’ had wanted simple comic-book escapism, it wouldn’t have hired Mr. Lamar,” an artist Pareles describes as “This moment’s pre-eminent rapper: furiously inventive, thoughtful, virtuosic, self-conscious, musically adventurous and driven.”
As a comic book fan, I’m beyond proud of Marvel for making this movie happen. As I woman of color, I’m even more proud that there is representation for the black community within the comic book movie scene. Sure, we have Rhodey (War Machine) and Sam Wilson (Falcon), but for Black Panther to be the first black superhero both in mainstream comics and to have his own solo movie in the MCU, is massively important.
On Twitter, the hashtag ‘What Black Panther Means To Me,’ was trending. People around the world said what this film means to them and what it means for children.
In another interview with Variety, Chairman Alan Horn of Walt Disney Studios said, “Representation matters,” and, “It’s a powerful and important thing for people to know they are seen and to see themselves reflected in our films and the stories we tell.”
There are few films of this caliber that have an entirely black cast, written by black writers and directed by a black man. In another interview with The New York Times, Jordan, Boseman and other cast members gathered to have a conversation with reporter Reggie Ugwu. In the interview, Jordan commented, “Moving forward, everybody’s going to start to have the courage to tell bold stories that people didn’t think were lucrative.” I was inspired by this feat because I finally got a glimpse at what Hollywood could be if they just let people of different backgrounds have their time in the spotlight, especially in this day and age where race tensions are high. To see someone who looked like me, in a superhero role and a position of power, is so monumental and, for lack of a better word, powerful. There are many movies that have inspired me, but there are very few films that have made me proud to be a woman of color. This film is by far my favorite Marvel movie and has been added to my top ten favorite movies of all time.
I’m going to give this film 4 / 5. It is literal marvel within this beautifully complex extended universe, and while the messages may not resonate with everyone, it is a beautiful film that people from all walks of life will enjoy, whether you’re black, white, brown or anywhere in-between.