My son saw the Black Panther movie at a special showing his organization put on, the night before the nationwide opening on February 16th which is when I went. I babysat his two children while he and his wife attended, garbed in African attire as was everyone else at the sold out showing. When he returned, he refused to tell me anything about the film, knowing I’d be seeing it the next morning. He described the spectacle and experience of the event. The only word he used to describe the movie itself was, “awesome!”
Now my son knows his superheroes and the entire Marvel Universe. He grew up reading the comics, watching the cartoons, discussing them with his father who had read the comics in his youth. He doesn’t throw out the phrase “awesome” lightly. He could and has dissected a movie, describing how it strayed from the original characterizations and where the filmmaker sold out for a joke or took a short cut to achieve an end. We’ve disagreed on movies before but not this time, other than “awesome” vastly understates the magnificence of this film and its potential for transforming the way people look at films forever. The film was all that I hoped for, more in fact. It was more than I ever imagined it could be. This was the best movie I’ve ever seen and had the later shows not already been sold out, I’d have watched it again on the spot.
Let me start by saying what the movie is not. It isn’t a film whose primary purpose is to advance the overall agenda of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) which has been building towards the Avengers: Infinity War for the last ten years. The movie is completely stand alone and while it references the death of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka which took place in Captain America: Civil War. It was only referred to in the context of this film and wasn’t promoting an outside agenda.
It was not apologetic for Africa, for blackness, and in no way suggested that Wakanda was inferior to any nation in the world. It highlighted the greatness of Wakanda, and while the moral struggles were a huge theme in the film. There were heroes throughout the film, black heroes not imbued with super powers who did the right thing when required, willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause. And it gave as much credit to #BlackGirlMagic as anything I’ve ever seen. None of the women had super powers yet they risked all for what they believed in. Your daughters will leave the theatre wanting to be like them!
The film was as African a thing as can be found outside of Africa itself. While a few scenes were set in London, South Korea, and Oakland, CA. Even those scenes were about Africa. Of the two major white characters, one disappeared in the middle of the film and the other was introduced as a “colonizer.” The settings were amazing, I’ve never seen a superhero film that I thought of in terms of Academy Awards other than those related to technology, and yet I can see this nominated for Best Picture, Best Soundtrack, Best and Supporting Actors, and more. There were a couple times I found tears rolling down my face because the majesty of a continent and its people were being portrayed as never before.
I had some fears before seeing the film that we were being set up for watching the brilliance of Wakanda and all it represents to those who have never heard Africa spoken of in other than negative terms; demolished in the next Marvel movie in less than three months. The Avengers: Infinity War film comes out May 4th and may well destroy the very nation which took my entire lifetime to come to fruition. Maybe it’s just too much for the existing power structure to allow for the greatest country in the world to be a small nation in Africa instead of the United States? For the next 76 days, Wakanda represents the best of what Earth has to offer. Let’s hope it survives. Now it’s time to have a conversation with my son that’s been a lifetime in coming.