It is 2019 so I am hoping that it means everyone, or at least most of you, have had a chance to go see Marvel’s Black Panther. If not, you better get on Netflix right now!
Black Panther is now officially the most successful superhero movie in the US and the most talked about movie ever, on Twitter. (That is, without including all the times where we spelled it the way that Zuri- and many South Africans pronounce it: BleK penther). It’s fair to say that this movie has gotten a lot of buzz and I am very happy to say that it deserves all of it and not only because it is probably the first non slave movie with a predominantly black cast and director or because it shows black people as multifaceted complex human beings in a world where we usually play the funny best friend, the secretly caring thug, or the very affectionate mother who cooks like Aunt Jemima. This was more than just a superhero movie. I could write about it for hours but instead, I suggest you watch Ms. Evelyn’s review below because she basically spoke my mind.
Now, moving on. Let's start with the women of Wakanda.
This movie is full of strong and determined women who fiercely protect their land and loved ones in different ways. While you can argue that the idea of a strong willed woman who can fight is not new to superhero movies, there is something to be said for the fact that they did not put the Wakandan female army in a revealing catsuit or some other overly sexualized outfit. In the comic, Dora Milaje’s story is very typical of the female narrative that we normally see in Anime and Comic Books. In Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s screenplay for Black Panther, there is a huge improvement in characterization. They actually stand on their own as protectors of Wakanda, led not only by their king, T’challa but also by a General as fierce as they come.
Most of the time, when women are represented in such roles, they are shown to be struggling between balancing their duties at work and their family/home life. I’m not going to take away from that fight because it is very real for all of us (men included) and we are all trying to find the balance. In the movie, Nakia is in love with the king but above all, she wants to help those in need. It was refreshing to see that her narrative did not revolve around her love for the Black Panther. Her struggle was about kin folk and skin folk- or responsibility vs. Modernity. It was all about her loyalty to her country vs. her duty to her people around the world.
This movie truly focused on aspects of women’s lives that are different from what we are used to seeing on the big screen. There was barely any mention of beauty or appearance. They challenged the typical beauty ideal in popular media without even talking about it. This is especially true for Black women who are normally shown with straight permed hair, long weaves or incredibly defined curly Afros that are not typical of African women. In black panther, the main protagonist had short “kinky” hair and the General was bald. The queen herself had dreadlocks- a hairstyle that has been called unprofessional and unkempt by a countless number of HR reps. Many other hairstyles and African styles of clothing that are often mocked or looked down on were showcased properly and they radiated with beauty.
The STEM princess Shuri, does speak about appearance in a couple of short scenes but she did so in a different way from what we normally get when we see a science nerd on TV. According to mass media, a girl who likes science and technology is first of all incredibly rare. Also, she should hate makeup, dresses and pretty much anything else associated with femininity. Shuri is the opposite of that stereotype and it is refreshing to see. She has beautiful box braids, she wears body-con dresses and mocks her brother for wearing outdated shoes. None of this takes away from the fact that this sixteen year old is the smartest person in the movie. Her passion for science and efficient use of energy is “cool” enough that I genuinely believe it will inspire more girls to go into STEM Fields. By the time the credits rolled, she definitely had me convinced.
Shuri’s relationship with her brother, the king, is one of the many reasons T’challa is such a beloved character. The Black Panther is this male protagonist with super strength who actually has an emotional connection with those around him. He shows his emotions in ways that the ‘alpha males’ on screen (especially superheroes) usually shy away from because it is not considered “masculine”. I appreciated his vulnerability even more when his long lost cousin, Kilmonger comes in with a harsh need for revenge. It is almost like it’s there to represent the toxic masculinity that can only be the result of repressed feelings and anger. T’challa’s character shows what it looks like when a society is emotionally open and men are allowed to feel and grow into emotionally mature beings.
I can’t help but notice the lack of Queer and differently-abled representation in this movie. I understand that the focus was on Pan-Africanism and the black struggle but I can’t help but feel a little a little disappointed by the fact that Ayo’s love story was not included in the movie. One of the goals of this movie was to showcase the diversity of black people but a big part of it’s population was left out of the equation.
That said, there will be a sequel and I, for one, believe in the sovereign nation of Wakanda. This great nation proves that in a world where we are not limited by narrow definitions of gender roles, we all win. So all I have to say is this:
What were your thoughts on this movie? Which characters do you identify with?