Film Review: Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o
Black Panther ticks all the boxes of what a conventional superhero movie should be, but it is so much more than that. It is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, and has already set a record for the highest advance sales of any Marvel movie. One man even started a GoFundMe to make it possible for underprivileged children in Harlem to go see it. Frederick Joseph, who started the campaign, said he wanted “get as many children as possible to see this film and see themselves as a superhero or a king or queen.” Indeed, the film is a much-needed breath of fresh air in terms of representation, as it portrays black people of many different backgrounds with a level of depth and nuance that is unprecedented in a movie of this scale. Black Panther starts with T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, trying to make peace with his father’s death. Not only has his father T’Chaka just died, T’Challa now also has the responsibility of ruling his country as king, but also has to reconcile some difficult truths about his family.
Director Ryan Coogler centred the film on Africans and African culture, embracing what he calls Afrofuturism. He defines Afrofuturism as a type of Afro-centric Science Fiction, “bridging the cultural aspects of ancient Africa, but also giving it the potential of the future”. Coogler moves between panoramas of glorious African landscapes and futuristic Wakandan labs and cityscapes. This concept is carried through by Ruth Carter’s stunning costumes, which have been modelled on many different African tribes and add to the vibrant colour scheme of the film. Her costumes make the female warrior clan known as the Dora Milaje look fiercely intimidating, as Carter states that she “wanted to enhance the tone of the red, so if you saw four fighters standing together, four felt like 10, because of the strength and saturated nature of the colour.” It is also incredibly refreshing to see these warrior women fight in functional armour that is not overly sexualised. Moreover, besides his use of colour, Coogler also uses light in innovative ways. One of the fight scenes is intermittently lit with the light of gunshots, adding to the suspense of the scene.
The majority of the cast, consisting of among others of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Forest Whitaker, is mostly black. This is a film with token white people (or rather, Tolkien white guys) rather than the one token minority person that is often included in major blockbusters. An article by The Independent stated that last year people of colour still only make up 13.6 per cent of leads in the highest grossing films. The result is a rich, layered portrayal of African heritage, and the myriad of tensions being African brings with it. In many ways, it is unlike any other Marvel film, but it also features classic superhero movie suspense, epic fight scenes, car chases, banter, and comic relief. While the film starts a little slowly, eventually the action picks up, and the suspense builds. It looks like superhero movies are heading in a different, more diverse direction with Coogler’s Black Panther, following Patti Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. Granted, many big blockbusters from the Marvel universe are still mostly white-centric and conservative. Yet over the past year, Marvel has featured superhero films that criticise colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, and I believe that bodes well for the future.
A bookworm, film lover, and general cultural omnivore. Currently in the process of graduating from an MA in Writing, Editing and Mediating. Prone to dissecting pop culture, slightly obsessed with Laura Marling, and always ready to launch into a feminist debate.