Diversity isn’t something Hollywood is well known for. The American film industry seems to think diversity in films is a sort of novelty that can be pulled out every now and then when they’re trying to be edgy. It’s getting better, but there is still a long way to go. Black Panther is definitely a step in the right direction. But first let’s talk about the film itself.
Marvel are really hitting their stride because it seems that they get cooler and more mind-blowing with each instalment. Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa dealing with becoming king of Wakanda after the death of his father in Civil War. He also is faced with problems his father has left behind. This becomes a major theme of the film; dealing with the Sins of the Father. And not just for T’Challa. But I won’t say any more about that
Wakandas capital, the Golden City, is probably one of the coolest futuristic cities I’ve ever seen. Not because it was better or more creative or clever than others, but because it was African. I’ve never seen a technologically advanced first-world African city in any movie ever. A lot of the tech seen in the film is based off real world projections of the next 25 – 30 years. The concept for the city was that it’s one that has evolved and developed naturally, rather than being colonised, and there are very few African nations that haven’t been colonised by some foreign oppressor at some point in the last thousand years. Hannah Beachler, who was one of the designers wanted to honour the comics with the design of the city but also took inspiration from Sub-Saharan countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo and Ethiopia.
The Wakandan language is based off the IsiXhosa language of AmaXhosa people of southern Africa. Multiple tribes are introduced to give a larger sense to the nation, rather than it just being the city seen in the film. Inspiration for each tribe was taken from places such as Nigeria and Lesotho. A story bible was created by the development team for each of the tribes shown to detail their origins, peoples, traditions etc.
Something I especially loved was the costumes. The general day-to-day Wakandan clothing that everyone wore was relatively normal but the traditional clothing and the costumes of the other tribes had aspects taken from Maasai, Himba, Dogon, Basotho, Tuareg, Turkana, AmaXhosa, Zulu, Suri and Dinka peoples just to name a few. The look and sound and feel of the film has been described as a ‘love-letter to Africa and that’s exactly what I saw. Even as someone with no African blood, family, or ancestry (save whatever is left from when our ancestors migrated out of the continent a hundred thousand years ago), I still felt a sense of pride and happiness seeing African people portrayed as proud, intelligent and powerful. Seeing the traditional African tribal dress, weapons, and culture mixed with the futuristic, advanced, and intelligent was an exciting thing.
I don’t have much to say on the acting as everyone was on point as always. Marvel always does well with its actors. I will say that Andy Serkis’ performance as Ulysses Klaue was probably my favourite (Serkis is always exceptional) and I absolutely loved Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challas younger sister. I do believe she will be a fan favourite.
A live action adaptation of Black Panther has been attempted multiple times in the past 24 years. In 1994, Wesley Snipes tried to produce a Black Panther film once he was finished with Demolition Man. Snipes wanted to highlight the majesty of Africa, which he felt had been (and still is) poorly portrayed in Hollywood. However, the project eventually fell through in 1996 after a lack of progress and Stan Lees general dissatisfaction with the scripts.
With the MCU, Black Panther has been planned since 2005 as one of the ten original films they had planned (the others were Captain America, Avengers, Nick Fury, Ant Man, Cloak and Dagger, Doctor Strange, Hawkeye, Powerpack & Shang-Chi). Marvel had even considered introducing Wakanda in Iron Man 2 back in 2010 but decided to give it more time so they could have a better idea of what the nation looked like.
This is an important film. It’s not super original (it follows the exact same story structure as every one of the 17 films that precede it) but when the majority of Hollywood films have white male leads, a film where most of the characters are black and presented in a positive light is something to be praised. It gives powerful role models and something to be proud of. When your people are mainly used as villains or supporting roles as opposed to being in the hero in the forefront, it can be damaging to your identity and self-worth. But here are insanely beautiful African warrior women serving as the elite special forces of Wakanda. Here is a sixteen-year-old girl, also beautiful, also a warrior, but also the most intelligent person on the planet. Here is a man who, despite the crimes committed against his people in the past, wants to better the world through peace, kindness, and intelligent technological advancement. This is the kind of message I want to see in films and I know that others want that kind of thing as well because over 200 GoFundMe campaigns were started to pay for children of colour to go see the film. It has sparked hope that young black Americans will be inspired to learn about science, technology, and Africa.
Perhaps, now that Hollywood has seen that you can actually have a primarily black/female cast and have the film be both financially and critically successful (what a surprise), we will see much more of it.
Watch Black Panther. The name may be a bit redundant (all panthers are black; it’s like saying a white polar bear), but the film is still awesome. Everything is incredible and I love it.
Next stop: Infinity War!
Reviewed by Tim Baker