Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther

I saw the film Black Panther this past Thursday night and I have to say I thought it was very good. And it wasn't just the movie I appreciated, but also how many of the African-Americans audience members came dressed in traditional African attire, and how happy and excited they were at the prospect of seeing a movie that is clearly very important and meaningful to them and indeed anyone who longs for a world were all are recognized, represented, and valued. Black Panther plays a big role in ushering in such a world. Accordingly, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that its making and release signify an important cultural moment.

But why exactly?, you may ask. . . . Well, Black Panther is the first film of the Marvel cinematic universe to place a black superhero front and centre. It also features a black director (Ryan Coogler) and a majority black cast (including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, and Forest Whitaker). In addition, it explores questions and issues about race and identity to a depth never before attempted by a film in the "superhero" genre.

To celebrate these milestones, I share a compilation of excerpts from some of the most erudite and insightful reviews and commentaries I've come across concerning the important cultural moment that is Black Panther.



Black Panther has become the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, with Chadwick Boseman pictured as the new King of Wakanda, T’Challa. The Black Panther movie was always going to be a big deal, but there was no guarantee that it would honor the source material and/or resonate with audiences. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of creatives like writer/director Ryan Coogler, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison, and stars like Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Forest Whitaker, the Black Panther solo film is well on its way to becoming both a cultural and financial juggernaut.

Black Panther has now broken Fandago’s pre-sale record for first quarter films, as well as that for superhero movie pre-release ticket sales in general. It looks like the film will hit somewhere in the ballpark of $150 million domestically over its 4-day opening frame, giving it one of the MCU’s biggest solo debuts to date. In addition, early reviews for Black Panther praise the movie for being not only a socially and politically important superhero blockbuster, but an entertaining and action-packed one as well. Now, the movie can add another bona fide.

– Matthew Erao
Excerpted from “Black Panther is First MCU Movie
to Receive TIME Magazine Cover

Screen Rant
February 8, 2018, 2017

Above: Writer and director Ryan Coogler with actor Chadwick Boseman
on the set of Black Panther. (Photo: Entertainment Weekly)

What seems like just another entry in an endless parade of super­hero movies is actually something much bigger. Black Panther hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already enormous. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa – and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors. “You have superhero films that are gritty dramas or action comedies,” director Ryan Coogler tells TIME. But this movie, he says, tackles another important genre: “Superhero films that deal with issues of being of African descent.”

[. . .] The movie, out February 16, comes as the entertain­ment industry is wrestling with its toxic treatment of women and persons of color. This rapidly expanding reckoning – one that reflects the importance of representation in our culture – is long overdue. Black Panther is poised to prove to Hollywood that African-American narratives have the power to generate profits from all audiences. And, more important, that making movies about black lives is part of showing that they matter. [. . .] In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance. Its themes challenge institutional bias, its characters take unsubtle digs at oppressors, and its narrative includes prismatic perspectives on black life and tradition. The fact that Black Panther is excellent only helps.

– Jamil Smith
Excerpted from “The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther
TIME Magazine
February 19, 2018

Above: The principal cast of Black Panther. From left: Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Michael B. Jordan as N'Jadaka / Erik "Killmonger" Stevens, Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi, Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T'Challa's mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, and Letitia Wright as Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister.

TIt's finally here – and it couldn't have come at a better time. Black Panther is an epic that doesn't walk, talk or kick ass like any other Marvel movie – an exhilarating triumph on every level from writing, directing, acting, production design, costumes, music, special effects to you name it. For children (and adults) of color who have longed forever to see a superhero who looks like them, Marvel's first black-superhero film is an answered prayer, a landmark adventure and a new film classic.

But wait a minute: Hasn't Black Panther been around since the 1960s, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created him for the comics? So why did it take half a century for Marvel to get him up on screen? Chadwick Boseman already played this superhero in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, a supporting role in a Marvel Comic Universe best categorized as #AvengersSoWhite. That's all in the past. There's no sidekick or second-banana status here. The spotlight is all his – and his stand-alone, solo outing is history in the making.

Thrillingly and thoughtfully directed and written (with Joe Robert Cole) by Ryan Coogler, the film lights up the screen with a full-throttle blast of action and fun. That's to be expected. But what sneaks up and floors you is the film's racial conscience and profound, astonishing beauty. Not just a correction for years of diversity neglect, it's a big budget blockbuster that digs into the roots of blackness itself. Coogler, 31, has proved his skills behind the camera with Fruitvale Station and Creed, but in Black Panther he journeys into the heart of Africa to bring a new world to the screen. The result feels revolutionary.

– Peter Travers
Excerpted from “Black Panther Review:
Marvel's History-Making Superhero Movie's a Masterpiece

Rolling Stone
February 6, 2018

Above: Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther.

Yes, Black Panther is another multizillion-dollar installment in the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that is not all that it is. Other superhero movies have dabbled in big ideas – the Dark Knight trilogy most notably, and the X-Men franchise to a lesser degree. But their commitments to the moral and political questions they contemplated were relatively haphazard and/or peripheral. The arguments Black Panther undertakes with itself are central to its architecture, a narrative spine that runs from the first scene to the last.

[. . .] It is notable, too, that so many of the film’s central characters are female. In a spirit journey, T’Challa speaks with his dead father, who counsels him to “surround yourself with people you trust.” T’Challa follows this advice and, as a result, surrounds himself almost exclusively with women. On a brief, Bondian foray to a casino in Busan, South Korea, T’Challa brings along Nakia and Okoye as teammates. A later mission has a still-greater female/male ratio of three-to-one. This is a film that does not merely pass the Bechdel test, it demolishes it. Moreover, there is an uncommon richness to the female characters, in their interactions both with T’Challa – as mother, as sister, as ex-lover, as bodyguard – and with one another.

[. . .] In T’Challa’s spirit dream, his father also offers the advice that “it’s hard for a good man to be king.” Which raises the question: Is it hard for a good movie to be king? If the formidable box office predictions for Black Panther are remotely accurate, the answer will be a resounding no – and quite rightly so. All hail the new king.

– Christopher Orr
Excerpted from “Black Panther Is More Than a Superhero Movie
The Atlantic
February 16, 2018

Black Panther, the latest entry in Marvel’s shared cinematic universe, is a remarkable feat of world building and visual craft. Its setting, the fictional central African nation of Wakanda, is a technologically advanced wonderland light years ahead of the rest of the world that lives and breathes unlike anything we’ve seen from Marvel Studios or the superhero genre at large. Its protagonist, King T’Challa – who fights in defense of his nation as the Black Panther, equipped with a bulletproof suit and imbued with enhanced strength, speed, and agility – is played with both regal confidence and real vulnerability by the versatile Chadwick Boseman.

But what drives Black Panther isn’t its visuals or superheroics. What drives the film is its pursuit of the idea that arguably defines the superhero genre, best articulated in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And what makes Black Panther unique is that it pursues this in the context of its characters and its setting. It asks not just, “What is T’Challa’s responsibility to Wakanda?” but “What is Wakanda’s responsibility to the world?”

[. . .] Of course, Black Panther isn’t a political thriller. [Its] conflicts and tensions play out in action as much as dialogue, and the ideas come naturally. There are no mouthpieces speaking on behalf of the writers. But it is fair to say that Black Panther is the most political movie ever produced by Marvel Studios, both in its very existence – it’s the most expensive movie to have ever starred an almost entirely black cast – and in the questions its story raises.

– Jamelle Bouie
Excerpted from “Black Panther Will Thrill You
– and It Will Make You Think

February 15, 2018

Above: T'Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda after a rescue mission with Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).

Evan Narcisse, who co-writes the miniseries Rise of the Black Panther with Ta-Nehisi Coates, says he views Wakanda as the representation of an “unbroken chain of achievement of black excellence that never got interrupted by colonialism.” Narcisse’s work also filters Wakanda through the prism of Haiti, the revolutionary home of black liberation in the New World.

Even before his modern rejuvenation, T’Challa and his comic-book homeland offered up the same kind of representations of difficult concepts. As Jamil Smith writes for Time, the character of the Black Panther — the first black comic-book superhero — was created in 1966 during the civil-rights movement and very much represented “a vision of black grandeur and, indeed, power in a trying time.” His creation also coincided with the interconnected rise of both the Black Power movement and a second wave of Pan-Africanism and nationalism. Though created by white writers and shepherded through eras of embarrassing racial stereotyping and caricature, Black Panther the comic has always been notable for the cultural valences of creating a bulletproof, super-rich, erudite, and aggressively independent black hero, and for its willingness to fathom black geopolitical power.

In almost every facet of production, from wardrobe and costume design to the film’s score, Coogler’s Black Panther takes that thread of power and spins it into a diaspora’s fantasy.

– Vann R. Newkirk II
Excerpted from “The Provocation and Power of Black Panther
The Atlantic
February 14, 2018

As for the allegations of the film being “too militant,” I wanted to just list the many action and war films that are comfortable with putting hundreds of dead brown bodies in the backdrop for a white character, but my editor pointed out that would probably take about a year to type out. Basically, if you think the superhero movie Black Panther is too militant but didn’t react the same way to say, American Sniper, you’re not concerned about militancy.

To be clear, I’m not saying these two films are equivalent to one another. Rather, I’m suggesting that many white movie viewers seem fully comfortable with violence when it’s on the side they recognize (white, imperialistic), but are suddenly outraged by any hint of strength from the side of the traditionally marginalized, regardless of context. Black people, especially, are expected to take on the pacifist, peace-making and non-violence route to the extent that self-defense becomes radicalized. We see this in the way people talk about police brutality (“Why didn’t they comply?”) to the rhetoric of activism (“MLK wouldn’t want this!”) to the way we write history. It’s the same mindset that paints the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist group, instead of a group fighting for their lives.

Also, I’ll be the millionth person to point out that Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party carried guns for defense and in full compliance with laws at the time. If the Black Panther cast acts like the Black Panther Party in the film, they’ll be spending a lot of time running free breakfast programs and medical clinics (which, to be clear, I’m not opposed to as watching that sounds lovely). Here especially, this declaration from the Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program rings especially true: “We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.”

– Charline Jao
Excerpted from “Black Panther Is Neither Too Black Nor Too Militant
The Mary Sue
June 12, 2017

As comic book lore dictates, Wakanda is rich with a valuable material, known as vibranium, that many other countries would aim to exploit if it weren’t for T’Challa’s fiercely protective father, T’Chaka, who enacted a strict isolationist policy for the country. Black Panther’s early appearances in the comics depicted a Wakanda that holds steadfast to specific African tribal traditions (he’s referenced as a “hereditary chieftain” in Fantastic Four No. 52, where he first appears), yet T’Challa still enjoys the comforts that being the leader of an uber-wealthy nation brings. Wakanda is imagined as a country that is untouched by the evils of colonialism, quite literally hidden away.

This aspect of the fantasy is key. White America’s ongoing obsession with British royals remains oddly prevalent. The marketing of (mostly white) princesses and happy endings remain a lucrative machine for Disney. But this isn’t either of those things. For decades, black people have been left to wonder what might have been were it not for the ravaging influences of colonialism. Invoking kings and queens is often a defiantly political act, and Black Panther is an exaggerated exploration of pride in something that has been taken away.

– Derreck Johnson
Excerpted from “Why Black America Loves Depictions
of Black Royalty. And Why We Need Them

February 14, 2018

Above: Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther and Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T'Challa's mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda.

Black Panther, an adaptation of the iconic comic book that has been decades in coming, proves to be more than worth the wait. This lush, impressively well-acted film, about an African king learning how best to marshal the superpowers with which he’s been endowed, comes draped in anticipation, not only from hardcore fans of the source material, but also from filmgoers already steeped in breathless hype. Director Ryan Coogler, working with a script he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, doesn’t just meet but exceeds those expectations, delivering a film that fulfills the most rote demands of superhero spectacle, yet does so with style and subtexts that feel bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking.

[. . .] The difference with Black Panther is that, while observing the outlines of the traditional comic book arc, Coogler and his creative team have enlarged and revitalized it. Drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, Black Panther pulses with color, vibrancy and layered textural beauty, from the beadwork and textiles of Ruth Carter’s spectacular costumes and Hannah Beachler’s warm, dazzlingly eye-catching production design to hairstyles, tattoos and scarifications that feel both ancient and novel.

Although the comic-book-movie universe might not seem to need yet another origin story, this one possesses urgency and genuine propulsive interest most others lack. Once T’Challa’s true challenge is revealed, Black Panther becomes something deeper than the mere formation of one superhero, engaging such subjects as: the legacy of co­lo­ni­al­ism; collective memory and interior geography; the tension between autonomy and social conscience; and the need for solidarity within an African diaspora at political and cultural odds with itself.

Make no mistake: Coogler doesn’t use Black Panther as an awkward delivery system for such Deep Ideas. Rather, he weaves them in organically and subtly.

– Ann Hornaday
Excerpted from “Black Panther is Exhilarating,
Groundbreaking and More Than Worth the Wait

The Washington Post
February 9, 2018

How should we understand the arc of the film? How should we read this final pivotal moment? Are these distinctions as clean as they appear? Is Killmonger the villain we are made to hate, and T’Challa the hero we cannot help but love?

For [Christopher] Lebron, the movie sides with T’Challa, reducing the Americanized Wakandan to a “receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangterism.” At a time when black life is under assault, he argues, the movie traffics in infantilizing tropes about black men as angry, irrevocably wounded, and in need of rescuing at the hands of superior Africans. For others, the movie appears to sloppily tie liberation for oppressed people to the efforts of the murdering Killmonger.

. . . [A]rt, however, must bear its own burden, not ours. When we examine the movie from the inside, what emerges is a very different and rich narrative. [Director and writer Ryan] Coogler ask us to see Killmonger not as a stereotype of African-American life, but as a commentary on the wider society from which he comes. The movie demands that we resist the temptation to examine Killmonger through the often distorting and unfriendly American gaze. For those eyes, as we learned so long ago from W. E. B. Du Bois, often look on black people in amused contempt and pity.

Killmonger emerges not as the expression of crude tropes, as Lebron and others suggest, but as a tragic figure with heroic qualities who forces us to see the oppression of others as our own. Killmonger’s vision of the world is animated by loss and abandonment. He seeks revenge, no doubt motivated by the terrible feelings of being left behind by the very people to which he owed his birthright. His resentment comes to be a stand-in for the resentment of an oppressed people without a home. In one of the film’s more jarring moments, Killmonger sneers at T’Challa’s isolationism. When T’Challa tells him that “It is not our way to be judge, jury, and executioner for people who aren’t our own,” Killmonger retorts: “Not your own? Didn’t life start here on this continent? So ain’t all people your people?” Abandoning their own, we are left to think, is what the Wakandans do.

Coogler does not stop there. Killmonger’s feelings of prolonged loss and abandonment are intensified by years of war-induced trauma that personify the dark undercurrent of Western power. This is where his character shifts from the noble to the ignoble, from the heroic to the tragic. Killmonger seeks a version of the very tyrannical rule that he sees as so central to black oppression across the globe. Dreams of liberation for Killmonger, oddly imagined through the prism of empire, set in motion the condition for his ultimate downfall. The desire to liberate is marred by the will to tyrannize, a vocabulary that he seemingly learns from those with whom he has lived. In a moment of irony, Killmonger reclaims Christopher North’s famous 1829 remark about the British Empire—“His Majesty’s dominions, on which the sun never sets”—as a vision for the African diaspora: “the sun will never set on the Wakandan empire.”

Herein lies the lesson Coogler ask us to consider. T’Chaka is partly responsible for Killmonger’s distorted sense of justice in the face of loss and abandonment, but the audience is made to understand and feel that it is the United States and the West that deformed him. It is no wonder, then, that when the Wakandans ask who this man is, sitting at the border of their lands with the dead body of Klaue, they are told (by a CIA agent, no less): he isn’t from Wakanda, he is one of ours.

Here the movie excels, and, with this framing in mind, the final scene takes on powerful meaning. Black Panther is a piece of literature rendered in cinematic form. Coogler does not treat the movie as a pure imagining of the revolution we long to have, but as an allegorical representation of what happens to a vision of freedom when forged through resentment, loss, abandonment, and deformation. This is what we are forced to reckon with.

– Melvin L. Rogers
Excerpted from “The Many Dimensions of Black Panther
February 27, 2018

Above: T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) do ritualistic battle for the throne of Wakenda.

But how gay is [Black Panther]? It’s not. But it almost was.

[Danai] Gurira’s [character] Okoye, who is canonically gay in the Marvel World of Wakanda comics, was written as such in early drafts of Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s script. In the final film, however, Okoye is with W’Kabi, and the scene first noted as particularly queer in the original screenplay is gone. Cole confirmed that the gay love story was in there at some point, but was unclear as to why it was removed.

It’s an unfortunate removal from a movie that is boundary-pushing in so many other ways — one that so effortlessly talks about colonization, the obligation for the powerful to help the powerless, radicalization, and so on. To finally see LGBTQ representation in a Marvel movie would have added another powerful layer to an already powerful film. Black Panther isn’t a worse movie for the removal, but the choice does disappoint.

– Kevin O'Keefe
Excerpted from “But How Gay is Black Panther?
February 16, 2018

Above: Danai Gurira (left) as Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda, who serve as T'Challa's bodyguards.

[In] bringing Wakanda to the screen [production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter] reached across the whole continent for inspiration, painting with a wide brush that shouts out to a broader African heritage with cultural roots scattered by the transatlantic slave trade – not necessarily speaking directly to any individual culture or real-life African country. There’s the Maasai beadwork, the Basotho blankets, the lip plates, the architecture inspired by ancient buildings from Timbuktu and Mali. What they built is a pan-African, afrofuturistic ode to the wider notion of African heritage, diaspora and all. And it’s all packaged in a massive superhero film that is undeniably the first of its kind.

There is a long history of Western portrayals of Africa conflating its thousands of incredibly diverse cultures, creating the false sense of Africa as a monolith. Through Black Panther, Marvel seems to have found a small loophole: Center the story on a fictional country built off the migration of tribes from all over the continent. Put it in the hands of a mostly black, already beloved creative team deeply invested in creating positive portrayals of blackness. Give them the resources and power to make something colorful, aspirational, epic in scope, and truly ambitious. Then welcome it into the world and take note of where it lands in history. If we’re lucky, this is only the beginning.

– Alanna Bennett
Excerpted from “Black Panther Is a Pan-African Medley
Aiming to Reframe the Narrative

February 15, 2018

NEXT: Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
The Evolution of Marvel’s Black Panther – Micah Peters (The Ringer, February 14, 2018).
Black Panther First Reactions: It's “Astonishing,” “Iconic” and “Will Save Blockbusters” – Andrea Mandell (USA Today, January 30, 2018).
Black Panther Brings Afrofuturism Into the Mainstream – Clarisse Loughrey (The Independent, February 14, 2018).
Black Panther Seeks to Inspire Not Incite Revolution – Stephen L. Carter (Bloomberg, February 18,2018)
Black Panther Actor Florence Kasumba Addresses the Movie’s Lack of Queer Representation – Jamie Broadnax and Abraham Riesman (Vulture, February 16, 2018).
Michael B. Jordan On His ‘Dark’ Preparation for Black Panther Role – Taryn Finley (The Huffington Post, January 30, 2018).
In Defense of Erik Killmonger and the Forgotten Children of Wakanda – Brooke Obie (Shadow and Act, February 17, 2018).
Black Voter Registration Effort Launched at Black Panther Screenings – Avery Anapol (The Hill, February 16, 2018).
Trolls Are Posting Fake Stories About Being Attacked at Black Panther Showings. Don’t Fall for Them – Hilary Hanson (The Huffington Post, February 17, 2018).
Black Panther Roars to a Record $192M First Weekend at the Box Office – Kim Willi (USA Today, February 18, 2018).
5 Lessons from Black Panther That Can Save Our Lives – and Transform Black Politics – Frank Leon Roberts (Medium, February 16, 2018).
A Wrinkle in Time's Representation Is Just as Important as Black Panther – Donyae Coles (Wear Your Voice, February 19, 2018).
After Black Panther, Will Hollywood Finally Admit That Black Films Can Travel? – Zeba Blay (The Huffington Post, February 27, 2018).
Black Panther Sequel Officially Confirmed By Marvel Studios Head – Andy McDonald (The Huffington Post, March 9, 2018).
Black Panther Hits $1 Billion Mark In Worldwide Box Office Numbers – Doha Madani (The Huffington Post, March 10, 2018).
Build Bridges, Not Barriers: Black Panther and the Enduring Chasm between Africans and African Americans – Stephanie Shonekan (Praxis Center, March 13, 2018).
White Writer Calls Black Panther "Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare" and Blames It for White People’s Problems – Monique Judge (The Root, March 20, 2018).
She Started Acting at 88. Four Years Later, She’s Recognized Everywhere for Black Panther – Kelyn Soong (The Washington Post, March 23, 2018).
Five Times Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther Was Comics Accurate (and Five Times He Wasn't) – Trevon Gibbs (, May 25, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Season of the (Scarlet) Witch
One Divine Hammer
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, But Definitely Queer

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