Playback: The Majesty of “Black Panther”

Greetings, nerds.

I say this because I’m pretty sure anyone who follows us regularly HAS to be a nerd of some sort. So, rest assured: I’m saying it with love.

Today, at long last, Super Hubs and I are bringing you our thoughts on Marvel’s latest triumph: Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. We saw the movie on Presidents’ Day, happily contributing to its massive box-office take over that four-day opening weekend. And it’s taken us this long to blog about it because we needed to collect our jaws from the floor and remember how to breathe.

Now that we’re more or less alive again, we’re here to give you the goods! Because the entirety of the plot matters, please enjoy this ~*spoiler alert*~.

Nikkie’s Thoughts (AKA the Only Ones that Matter)

I’m up first—mainly because even though I’m not as well versed in the Marvel universe as my husband, I *am* the black one, and I imagine people would find it strange for the white guy to talk about this movie first.

I can’t begin this review without saying the following: This movie is a well-deserved phenomenon. All the praise it’s received is warranted, and while I would never begrudge critics their right to nitpick, I believe it will stand the test of time and rise above all the haters. It is a sensation, and it should be received as such. (And you can trust me on this because despite all the praise, I found Wonder Woman to be just okay. I know how to critique, bish.)

There are so many great things about this movie, it’s hard to pick just one to start. Do I begin with the sheer amount of ♦♦black excellence♦♦ that was on display (a phrase that, while extremely overused when discussing this movie, is nevertheless very accurate)? The premium showcase of powerful and empowered women? The complexity of both our hero and our villain? The perfect blend of levity, depth, and history being made?

Given the nature of my life’s work (aka this blog), I will start with the story.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

The plot of Black Panther is many things. It’s one of the best that Marvel has put together in its ten-year span. It gives proper weight to both the hero’s story and the villain’s. It doesn’t waste too much time (or spend too little time) setting up who the characters are and why they’re there. It shines a sharp light on issues that resonate throughout history and remain relevant today.

(I sound like I’m overstating things for the sake of jumping on the praise bandwagon, but I truly believe these things.)

When T’Challa is made king—after a nerve-wracking and custom-dictated fight for the right to rule against a leader from one of the five tribes that make up Wakanda—he is consumed with the desire to live up to his father’s great name and honor his legacy. It’s for this reason that he takes it upon himself (and Nakia, his ex, and Okoye, the leader of the women warrior force, the Dora Milaje) to capture Klaue, the notorious thief who stole a bunch of vibranium (and killed some folk, it’d seem) back when T’Chaka was king.

This doesn’t go well. The CIA is there, led by Everett Ross, in the hopes of buying some vibranium that Klaue recently stole. While they do manage to capture Klaue, he escapes with the help of Erik Killmonger, shooting Ross in the process. Despite protests from Okoye, who is even more of a traditionalist than T’Challa, they proceed to bring Ross to Wakanda so that he can be healed.

Why is this a problem? Because Wakanda has thrived in secret. They didn’t want the world to have access to the powers of vibranium, knowing that it would lead to a bunch of white people trying to take control, so they hid their true civilization away and promoted the image of a third-world country to anyone who bothered to know the name Wakanda. With Ross recovering within the amazing advanced scientific lab, run by T’Challa’s little sister, Shuri, how long could they keep Wakanda’s way of life a secret? (Side note: It is brought up how they already allowed Cap and Bucky within their borders, and how Isn’t that enough white boys to last a lifetime?)

This, it turns out, is exactly what Klaue and Killmonger want. You see, Killmonger is half-Wakandan. His father was actually N’Jobu, brother to King T’Chaka, and the latter tragically killed the former (keeping both this act and the existence of his child a secret) once it was revealed that he led Klaue to the vibranium all those years ago.
Being the one who first discovered his father’s body, with fresh claw marks in his chest, Killmonger became determined to avenge his father. Having grown up in Oakland, California, he is also radicalized by the plight of black people around the world, so he decides that not only will he go to Wakanda—he will rule it, and use its technology to overthrow all the (white) oppressors of the world.

What ensues is a literal and metaphorical clashing of two different ideologies: T’Challa’s, which is the belief that Wakanda should be kept safe and secret because that’s how it’s always been done, and Killmonger’s, the belief that Wakanda is both responsible for and capable of reversing the struggle that black people have faced ever since they were chained and dragged onto boats.

And what makes this story so great is that both of these men have a point.

T’Challa is blinded by the need to maintain the status quo. Even if he sees all the good that Wakanda could do in the world (something that is frequently pointed out to him by Nakia), he believes it’s better to stay secluded. But, he isn’t wrong to believe that people will try to take advantage of his home or that all this advanced tech will end up in the wrong hands (what up, plot of the first Iron Man movie).
Killmonger, on the other hand, knows that there is an unspoken obligation for black people to support each other. He sees Wakanda’s silence through the slave trade and beyond as a betrayal. But, he also believes that the only way to right the wrongs of the world is to repeat them, this time with black people at the top of the pyramid. To quote him from the movie (though not in the same context), he wants to “burn it all.”

As much as someone might want to root for Killmonger’s cause—not that I ever truly did—it was clear that his way was no better than T’Challa’s, and his inability to truly comprehend what it means to lead made it all the more upsetting when he challenged T’Challa for the right to rule and won. But, his kingdom, while backed by a lot of Wakandan people (including a close friend of T’Challa’s/Okoye’s lover) is thankfully short lived. In an epic rematch, T’Challa bests Killmonger—stabbing him in the heart in a way that’s reminiscent of T’Chaka and N’Jobu. However, because our rightful king has seen the personal devastation created by Wakanda’s isolationist policy, he offers to heal Killmonger. The latter, however, doesn’t want to live in captivity, not after tasting the change he could’ve achieved. He dies, watching the gorgeous Wakandan sunset from a cliff.

After all this, T’Challa realizes that it’s time for Wakanda to step out of the shadows and help all the people—not just the black ones—who are struggling.

 ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

So! That was a lot to take in, yes. But it was all necessary to drive home how great this story is.

On its surface, it’s a simple story of familial turmoil playing out on a transnational stage, but underneath, it’s a morality tale. What does it mean to be so intent on your heritage that you let others suffer? And could the remedy ever be to simply flip the table instead of extending a hand? Is it truly possible for people on opposite sides of an argument to both be a little bit right and a little bit wrong?

The movie makes such a powerful statement with its plot. I’ve heard that some reviews called it a Shakespearean epic, and they were not wrong. The themes of this movie could easily be found in one of Shakespeare’s plays, and while I’m not exactly a Bard babe (I hope I just made up that phrase), I absolutely see how/why that comparison makes this one of—if not the—best installation in the MCU.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

But while I could go on and on about the story, I’ve taken up 1400 words already, and I haven’t even gotten into the other things that I love about this movie. And SH still needs to talk! So let’s speed-run this bish!

  • Everyone is correct: Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri, is a revelation. But what’s more, the character of Shuri is amazing and necessary. A young black woman, insanely proud of her heritage but capable of looking into the future, who is IN CHARGE of a nation’s technological advancements. She’s funny, she’s smart, and she’s badass. She’s not exactly a fighter with the kind of technical prowess her brother and/or the Dora Milaje possess, but she refuses to stay on the sidelines when the fate of her country is on the line. WE NEED MORE CHARACTERS LIKE SHURI. Not just so little black girls can have a new fantastic role model, but so that we as a society can see more women absolutely killing it.
  • Aside from Shuri, the women in this movie are just great. Nakia clearly loves T’Challa, but she doesn’t let that hold her back from her dream of exploring the world and rescuing people. Okoye is loyal to the throne—something that damns her when Killmonger is crowned—but like T’Challa, she learns that the rigidity of their way of life leads to broken people. She commands the Dora Milaje with an undeniable strength and aptitude, but she isn’t some robotic commander. She is layered, and I loved the uncovering of each one. Then, even though she isn’t in the movie a lot, there’s Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda. She is a symbol of the grace of her people, but she gets to show her many sides—mother, widow, and fierce protector of the legacy of her nation. She may take up less space, but she feels just as important as any Wakandan who appears on the screen.
  • While I don’t typically put too much stock in my black woman identity (because I don’t want that to seem like the most important thing about me), seeing so many black people on screen, owning their space and not giving away one inch of it, was amazing.
  • Personally, I was fine with the role Ross played in the defeat of Killmonger and his followers because it never felt like the white guy inserting himself where he wasn’t needed. He took direction from SHURI, the person least in command when it comes to battle, and he did it with no complaining or mansplaining. He was even willing to sacrifice his life (though he makes it out in the end) in order to help T’Challa and crew regain control.
  • Shout out to Bucky for still being around. I bet, at this point, he’s definitely not prejudiced the way I am POSITIVE that his bro-bro Steve Rogers is.

Okay! I think that’s everything . . . and I’m sure that anything I missed, SH will touch on it.

You’re up, hubs!

Super Hubs’s Thoughts

Look…look…look. I’m not gonna take up too much time here cus I wanted my brilliant, amazing wife to have the most space, so just bear with a colonizer for a bit.

This movie was damn near perfection. The cast, the script, the cinematography, the music—everything came together in perfect cohesion to create the most realistic world that Marvel has ever imagined. Whereas a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy uses its worlds as pretty set dressing to enhance its characters, Black Panther made the world and the characters intertwine in a way that made it feel like real history. I loved it.

Going in, I was most excited about hearing more about the Soul Stone (not that I wasn’t excited for everything else; I’m just reeeeeeeally excited about Infinity War), but after seeing the movie, I’m glad it didn’t come up. This one really needed to exist outside of the Infinity Saga because, unlike all the other Marvel movies, this one is important. It’s a disgrace that it has taken so long for a movie like Black Panther to be made. Yes, we had Blade, but Blade is a product of the 90s in all its goofy chic and was unable—and the studio was probably unwilling—to really explore the fact that Blade was black. Black Panther revels in its blackness, and it is beautiful.

Nikkie pretty much told you everything you need to know and there’s not much I could really add other than “Uaaaaaaahhh the action was epic” and “Oooooooh Lupita is beautiful and fierce” and “I CRIED LIKE 3 TIMES YA’LL”—all of which is true but unnecessary. So I’ll just give a few thoughts.

  • I love how the Jabari tribe just totally shuts down Ross when he’s trying to interject. Know your place, colonizer!
  • Shuri. Shuri. Shuri. I love Shuri. I can’t wait til she and Peter Parker inevitably meet and geek out over technology and, hopefully, dunk on Tony Stark a bit.
  • I’ll miss Andy Serkis as Klaue. He was fun to watch cus he was so gleefully insane. Also, why the unnecessary spelling change? In the comics, his name is spelled Klaw.
  • Did anyone else notice how misogynistic Killmonger was? His first act in the movie was killing a woman. He shot his girlfriend without warning and for seemingly no reason. He choked the caretaker of the Heart-Shaped Herb when she wouldn’t listen to him. Dude had some issues with women he needed to work out. He may have talked a good game, but at the end of the day he didn’t care about the liberation of black people so much as the domination of the rest of the world.
  • I’m glad Ross survived. I have a big ol’ crush on Martin Freeman.
  • Nakia is queen. T’Challa shoulda listened to her from the beginning because she had the right idea all along.
  • Shuri is queen.

And that about does it for me everyone! We loved this movie. A lot. A lot a lot. I’m still way excited for Infinity War, and I can’t wait to see how much ass Wakanda kicks. With Wakanda standing against him, Thanos doesn’t stand a chance!

Also it’s pretty cool that Bucky is White Wolf now. Let’s just hope he doesn’t follow the character’s comic book story!

Any final thoughts, Nikkie?

In closing, I will simply say: We loved the movie. It retained some of the comic book feel custom to Marvel movies (most notably in the South Korean car chase scene) while making its own statement, and it was a statement that should be capital-H heard.

If you haven’t seen the movie, what is wrong with you? Do you just not enjoy nice things?

May your heart-shaped herbs stay fresh,
Nikkie and Super Hubs

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