Black Panther hit the cinemas in the UK on February 13th to almost universal acclaim. It is lauded as a milestone in cinema for its revolutionary portrayal of an African nation; not as a backwards country riven by war but as an advanced technological superpower. Smiley Yearwood from Harrow West CLP assesses the films impact.
After the events of Civil War T’Challa is preparing for his coronation as the new ancestral king of Wakanda and his confirmation as the Black Panther. For millennia Wakanda has protected its people and its technology by isolating itself from the rest of the world but it soon comes face to face with its conscience when its sins come back to haunt it. The societal tension explodes and a rage is released which almost brings tragedy to the entire world.
It’s a technical triumph but more than than it’s an apotheosis of Black film-making talent. Ryan Coogler who burst onto the scene with his debut Fruitvale Station five years ago gives us a mature but joyous film which colours in the mythos of Black Panther its AfroFuturistic comic rebirth after its first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966). The all star cast is led by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita N’yongo but to be honest everyone in the cast gives a joyous committed career high performance.
There is so much breathless joy for the Black viewer in this perfect spectacle. The idea of a secret African superpower. The alternative history of an African culture that was not only not colonised but which thrived and surpassed every other world culture. If it was only this it would be sufficient as a film and a further episode.
The story of an isolated but superior culture that’s advancing technologically but socially and the crisis point that causes it to change and re-engage with the world. If it was only this it would be sufficient.
A Shakespearean story of betrayal, death, defeat and redemption which has a villain and a hero who are charismatic, driven and as justified as each other. If it was only this.
A villain who’s every utterance (when he’s not killing and destroying) got nods of approval from a rapt mostly Black audience. That chimes with our thoughts and hearts and makes us consider our dreams critically. An audience of all cultures who all got something from this movie, but for the African Diaspora sang a psalm of longing. Of “What if?”
There are a lot of reviews that will tell you how good this movie is. How bright. How beautiful. How diverse. How unique. How satisfying. I know this is a Marvel production but with a talented Black writer / director and an all star African and African Diaspora cast this feels like a Black film from Black people to the world. I know of no other movie where Black people here and in the US have been dressing up in what ever African Cultural clothes they can find and parading to the cinema copying the glorious turn out by the cast for the regal premiere.
I was going to start this review by saying that Black Panther was unique among the genre of Superhero movies but I think it does a disservice to the film to examine it as a superhero or even just a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. This is a transformative experience and cultural milestone.
Best Black History Month ever!
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