Black Panther

(Coogler, 2018)

Where does your perception of power come from? Where does your power come from? I self-identify as a lot of different things: Afro-Caribbean, queer, artist, woman. All of these things are important; don’t let anyone tell you that labels don’t matter in the year 2018. The way we choose to present ourselves to the world has power. And in 2018, Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) burst onto the global scene with a resounding message: we’re here, we cannot be erased or replaced, and we are taking our power back.

What makes Black Panther so remarkable to me, as a black artist, is how it never backed down. America is slowly waking up from a very long (242 years to be exact) nap. Our popular culture has been hiding behind a wall of timidity and fear, much like the country itself. In 1990, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences was more comfortable with Uncle Tom himself driving Ms. Daisy in a hazy, sepia-toned, candy-coated idealized version of the American South than the breakaway hit of the year, Do the Right Thing—a punchy, honest, brutal, and internal exploration of race relations in America.

The country wasn’t ready for a black man owning his power, his strength, and his flaws. In the age of the super-predator and the Central Park Five, black men and women we not yet allowed to be fully human. But, Black Panther, manages to prove the Three-Fifths Compromise wrong as hell. Every single character is a fully realized human being with purpose and strength...and not one of them apologizes for that. Now that y’all are woke to what’s good, Imma talk about the film and why it’s dope.

I can only imagine the board room meeting when the executives got the final shooting draft of the film, and they managed to get to the end, where Erik Killmonger makes a pointed remark about the violence and dehumanization of slavery and throws it directly back into everyone’s face. That’s just one of the examples of the bravery of the screenplay. It chooses its moments. It knows it’s a Marvel superhero movie. It knows it’s a major cultural turning point. It’s self-aware, it’s ambitious, and it's unapologetically Black™ as shown by the handful of quips added for the benefit of its target demographic and no one else.

Its characters are human. They are flawed, they have made and continue to make mistakes. T’Challa gets his ass beat not once but twice, okay? He’s still just a man. And in the end, that’s what gets the audience on his side. Not his physical strength, not his politics (which are #Questionable for 90% of the film), but his humanity. M’Baku gets rid of his pride and puts his morals and beliefs before himself. Amazing. Iconic. Never been done before. That’s one for progressive masculinity and a capital L for toxicity, can I get an amen.

But enough about the boys. It’s a woman’s world and T’Challa, Killmonger, M’Baku et. al. are simply allowed the privilege of existing in it, make no mistake. This movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors while also exploring all the complexities of multiple female narratives and experiences (which the Bechdel test doesn’t always allow for, don’t @ me). These women are the arbiters of their own destiny and that is a rarity and a gem in the world of #MeToo, Time’s Up, and Never Again. What’s really exciting though, is that they accomplish this while still being unapologetically female. The trap most writer/directors fall into, male and female identifying, is that they think to make strong female characters you must make them sexless, genderless, or at the very least masculine. But not in Wakanda, my brother.

Speaking of Wakanda, if you’re not a political revolutionary or a racial trailblazer, but you just like a nice looking movie and a good time, then pay for a ticket for the visuals. Pay for the really well-shot and edited action sequences, and potent dose of courage and humanity if it’ll get you in the door because goddamn is this a fun movie. Wakanda will welcome you into her open arms for a good time. And if that’s still not enough for you, we didn’t need you anyway. And don’t worry, I’ve seen it so many times I bought your ticket twice over. Is it a perfect film? No. Does it fix racism? No, but I wish. Is it the defining film of our new intersectional utopian vision for America? Not exactly. Is it a great time at the movies and a wonderful superhero romp to add to the American canon? Hell yeah. Will the landscape of American popular culture and filmmaking ever be the same? Probably not.

Wakanda forever. ★★★★½

Tori Ashley