**Warning: this review contains spoilers!**
Black Panther was the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics in a 1966 issue of Fantastic Four. Marvel has been pushing for nearly 20 years to have a Black Panther film made, with initial talks of a film starring Wesley Snipes back in the 2000s. Now, in 2018, we have the first big American superhero movie directed by an African American (Ryan Coogler), with a majority-black cast. Black Panther is a rare portrayal in American film of people of colour who are not primarily sidekicks, bad guys, or slaves. It is a refreshing addition to the Marvel movie franchise traditionally dominated by white men, mostly called Chris.
Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as T’Challa, first portrayed in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa becomes the king of Wakanda and wins the title of Black Panther after fighting one of the tribal warriors who challenged his rule. Wakanda has entirely avoided the poverty and political unrest of its colonised neighbouring nations and as a result is a hugely prosperous and technologically advanced nation.
The involvement of women in Wakandan society appears to be on equal footing with men. T’Challa’s little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is head of Wakandan technological innovation and research; a great knowledge of disciplines ranging from weapons and armour development to medical science shows that she did not attain her job simply by her royal blood. Even the execution of female characters’ fight scenes demonstrates their power; when women are fighting, their femininity can be weaponised (e.g. hitting opponents with their heels that would otherwise be an impairment to fighting).
The technology displayed in the film, along with the unique architecture and fashion straight out of a sci-fi setting, is a marvellous display of Afrofuturism. Even in the costumes alone are a thoughtful mixture of colours and patterns from different cultures all over Africa, combined with modern techniques like 3D printing to bring the future into the garments themselves. The first appearance of Ramonda (Angela Bassett) in 3D-printed regal headwear and shoulder piece is one of the most striking examples of the amalgam of African-inspired fashion and futuristic technology.
Wakanda has had a long tradition of non-interference in international politics. While this has been good for weaker nations that Wakanda could easily have overthrown, it has also allowed imperialist nations to invade and gut other African nations of their wealth and resources. Some Wakandans openly fear that discontinuing isolationism would allow immigrants and refugees to bring their problems into Wakanda and destabilize the country. Wakanda’s isolationism is responsible for the radicalization of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who was orphaned at a young age in a country built by slaves who were his ancestors. Killmonger kills Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an obvious villain who profits from stolen Wakandan artefacts. However, by examining Killmonger’s motives and his aggressive tactics for freeing oppressed people from their oppressors, the film acknowledges that people today are still complicit in oppression and racism directed at the descendants of African slaves. Instead of treating Killmonger as a wholly evil villain the narrative ends with a message of unity despite cultural and racial differences, showing that oppressing one’s oppressors only begets more pain and suffering and does not break the cycle of violence. There is emphasis on more constructive and compassionate methods of helping oppressed peoples by bringing them out of poverty and protecting them against further acts of violence, abuse, and oppression.
T’Challa pushes back against the toxic masculinity often forced upon black men. The male leads in this film cry during emotional moments, particularly when someone dies or is reunited with the spirit of a loved one; an average response to the former in otherwise similar movies may involve the protagonist yelling at the sky, flying into a rage, or for both the former and the latter scenarios a barely emotive response. T’Challa is a continually compassionate man, as shown through his rehabilitation of Bucky Barnes, his compassion towards Killmonger, and through his decision to share the wealth and technology of Wakanda with the world and provide outreach programs to disadvantaged communities.
4.5 out of 5 stars
– Jasmin Hoadley