I attended the press screening for Black Panther, gutted at missing the premiere. I could see the vibrant and accumulated beauty of the attendees, Kente cloth, Abayas, Kanzu tops, Dashiki’s and innovative styles patched to an Afrocentric taste. Through an unavoidable stream of media cultural wear glared at onlookers. A marvellous collection of media work and promotion has optimised the importance of this cultural product. This beauty was building over months of anticipation, the hype drowned in a sea of Blackness and expectation. As mentioned by Chadwick Boseman, the lead actor in the film who plays T’Challa/The Black Panther, in his interview with Desus & Mero their press run for the film has been in motion since December. Even at the press screening I could witness a sense of pride and eagerness to see the film match its hype.
Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the creator of the notable films Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015), his third film Black Panther marks a grand success on portraying the Marvel Character’s livelihood. Black Panther is a gathering of an extraordinary cast that stems from conversations on representation. It utilises an interconnected diaspora that stems over different countries gathering their experiences and relative ideals on Blackness. Hence the film is multifaceted, layered and offers a powerful argument for a respect – which a few films can demand as it draws upon emotion, realism and endeavour Black people have made around the World. Black Panther has the power to make an everlasting impact on filmmaking as it recognises the beauty of appreciating a once infamous projection of Africa.
The Film’s Spine
Black Panther picks up a week after the events that occurred in Avengers Civil War where T’Challa is forced to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. His Father and previous Black Panther, T’Chaka, is killed during a bombing that draws Wakanda into the affairs of this burgeoning World. Though Black Panther is very much otherworldly due to the wholesomeness of the films creation and the wonder that is Wakanda. As a story, its beauty lies in its visual prowess that glorifies tradition through an adept Africanising of a superhero tale. The film is also a powerful medium for diaspora who could empathise with the antagonist, it is Marvel’s greatest work to date as they addressed the culture at almost every possible level. The cast is a splendid blend of actors who have covered a wide range of roles, the main cast engaging in a spread of work that has illuminated the endeavour for Black representation and respect. Such as Lupita, who plays Nakia, in 12 Years A Slave (2013) which felt a final approach to the slave narrative, Queen of Katwe (2016) a film that sheds light on a brighter Africa. Daniel Kaluuya, starring as W’Kabi, is another outstanding actor that has been present as a figure of young Black British talent for the past decade. He has acted and written for the TV show Skins, offered remarkable performances in Black Mirror (2011), Sicario (2015) and the award-winning Get Out (2017), another turning point in this era of spectacular Black led works. The chemistry is pleasant, and no actor is out of place, Coogler’s influence is evident as his casting was a critical hit.
The press run was collectively outstanding, offering insight into the values applied and cemented within this project. As you scroll through Twitter or come across a new interview or moment on Black Panther you can learn something that makes the film a greater movement. For instance, the cast has an interview where they describe Snoop Dogg & Pharrell’s hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot” bellowing on set. My musical mind prompted the beat, featuring a shoulder bop and smile as I could imagine being on set surrounded by a Black cast, Black directors, writers, designers, cooling to a universally Black appealing sound. If I am honest, I break into smile and support whenever I see a Black actor in a film hoping they are not typecast for status quo. The only thing I could question with the efforts of the cast were some ill-placed accents, with Forest Whitaker giving us an Australian roaming through his Last King of Scotland audition type of accent. He really made a meal of it, butchering it in the process.
Though I appreciated the likes of M’Baku, played by Winston Duke, who interjected with a Nigerian Igbo inspired accent. He had the mannerisms so refined it tricked people to think he was from Nigeria, he is from Tobago! It played well with the theme of the Jabari stemming from another side of this beautiful Wakanda, offering diversity even within this country. It impressed me, likewise with Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri, a Guyanese actress who rolled her accent so smoothly. I am glad there was a Caribbean and South American representation within the film even if it was minimal through the actors. The Wakandan accent, in general, was based on South African dialects, Chadwick Boseman furthered these points in the Desus and Mero interview where he stated he shadowed people in South Africa who criticised his accent until he perfected the prose. Seeped in African inspiration and an endeavour to learn such effort is a soulful reach for such a spread of actors.
Lupita was at the brunt of many abasing comments, colourism has been an issue perverting beauty for centuries. People attempted to belittle her by derogatory comments, many stemming from Black men which highlighted a theme of self-hate and underappreciation. The whitewashed film industry stemming from Hollywood and in general caters to a White audience who have a spread of works to consume in relation to their lifestyles, it is their norm. Witnessing Black aesthetic is important in that sense, it must be unfiltered and relentless in showing. The debate that stemmed from 12 Years A Slave was revealing of many aspects of the industry and of course life itself. Within Society complexion considering beauty has a hierarchical scaling projected through our media. Lupita’s speech on Black Beauty at Essence Black Women reverberates within me. A moment in time I felt aware of the issues but l much more about beauty and representation. Her speech was alarming, raw and covered the extent representation of all things beautiful apart could do.
Within Black Panther, the awesomeness and overwhelming presence of Black beauty is something we haven’t seen before, at this level. It is important to stress the spread of this project to strengthen its impact. A discussion on Good Morning Britain between Edward Adoo and Joanna Jarjue about Black Panther and the importance of Black Superheroes showed how far removed the idea is for the public. Adoo entertained a devil advocate prose whilst Joanna stressed the importance of visibility within Characters for young Black girls. The Dora Milaje and the immense presence of Black Women within the film marks an incredible moment for spectators Worldwide. The cast of Black Women within Black Panther exemplified the best performances of Women within comic films. Notably, Okoye and Shuri equally stole the show. Shuri’s comedic relief and wonderful acting made her Character so loveable, I have not been so captivated by a Supporting Character in a Marvel film before. Okoye’s toughness and loyalty served an honourable look, her empowering stance avoids tropes within female Characters.
Fantasy and Reality
The content of Wakanda revolves around its magical resource Vibranium. The conflict within the film plays on the disbelief of Wakanda holding any worth. In secrecy, Wakanda is the greatest and most advanced country on the Earth. In contrast to reality, this strikes a resemblance with Congo and the Katanga area. Rampant mining of the natural resources has damaged the economic, social and ecological structure of the area. Katanga contains 34% of the Worlds Cobalt resources but supplies the World with 60% of its usage. The same material used for batteries, electroplating, magnets, used to make alloys for jet engines, gas turbines, high-speed temperature cutting tools and dyes. It also helps treat forms of cancer, used in gamma rays and other scientific and technological advancements.
You could argue if Congo was not forced into contention over such materials, its natural resources alone could provide it with the finances to become a stronghold within Africa. In Black Panther, the mark of the Coloniser is present as the narrative splits between wanting to keep Wakanda and its advancements safe from intrusion whilst also witnessing the madness stemming from the outer World. Considering recent grievances with the way our cultural products are consumed, the film also screams at appropriation – the endeavour for Wakandan resources and technology is comparable to the leeching of Black talent, propagating it as savvy, urban and youthful paradigms.
As a result, wayward debates on Michael B. Jordan’s character, Eric Killmonger, highlighted avenues of implications and concerns with how he acted. Bountiful claims and implications stemmed from his performance, some overstepping the marks of his comical hatefulness whilst others claiming him as an underappreciated hero. The story marks abandonment and addresses the distasteful ending of many Black slaves, cast away from their normality to face estrangement and an everlasting inhumanity. The contrast is apparent, a loss is dictated differently in Killmonger’s settings where life and honour are valued in the prestigious Wakanda. Notably for me, the comparison of the priestly and respected T’Challa notable for his strength, wisdom and pride in the face of realities confronted by suffering Black People Worldwide. Killmonger appeals to a young lively negritude, whereas T’Challa epitomised the majestic presence of a Black King. As a result, the romanticised angle of “We were Kings and Queens” dismisses the notion of Monarch, something we widely denounce in these Western Societies for the privilege they hold.
The narrative is chilling as it speaks volumes for many who could be described as abandoned in terms of culture and identity. Blackness has been hosted as an African American story which has often been extended onto ideals of Black people Worldwide. Despite many within the diaspora being 2nd or 3rd generation migrants, a lot of these individuals have no solid path to understanding “the Motherland” as well as a native could. Cultural aspects are lost in the act of translation, a lot of the values adopted in this new setting contrast rebelliously to the values of “home”.
I claim it is an African American lens of Africa, the sentimentalised and wisdom filled angle of Wakanda certainly add a “what if” factor. It actively combats the accumulated idea of a poverty-stricken Africa whilst shedding some light on aspects of other cultures. The richness in design and sound builds adoration for Africa whilst you observe the fulfilling acting from the diaspora. The film sheds light on the Colonial aspects of today, such as Museums hosting pieces stolen from Africa, imperialistic ambition within the CIA to stake a claim in resources that isn’t theirs and a direct conflict with unifying principles.
It actively takes away from preconceptions and questions the stability we have, although to clear comical extremes. Western endeavour is always witnessed as better, Black Panther does well to flip that script and heighten the aspect of magnificence within Africa by its strength, cultural codes and order. In comparison to T’Challa, Killmonger’s pain stems from an all familiar sense of loss of identity. I felt I related as a Ghanaian living in England, as an appreciator of Museums and Galleries I tend to gaze at “artefacts” with the wonder of their lineage. The pieces feel out of place, extracted from moments of history as if it’s a game. Framed for artistic and aesthetic consumption, it overrides the horrors of the time to refine the idea of historicising all things immoral from such countries. The better life extended to these British Isles files home as a step backwards, in reverse Wakanda is a dream where you return to riches and an ease of home.
Luckily my Parents are Ghanaian, there are Ghanaian communities that reflect life and a culture we can extend to here – alongside fellow West Africans, dwindling down to similarities within other Black people. I can hardly imagine the difficulty African Americans host, with their history entrenched in the horrors of racism within the United States. The idea of abandonment has been commercialised to a point people back “home” sell the idea of a return, in order to play on that loss and immerse African Americans and other wondering folk to go on Slave Trade Tours. The suffering Killmonger alludes to Worldwide could be prevented and addressed through the grand power of Wakandan Society. Unfortunately, there is no real-World comparison for the might of Wakanda and our respect for the content of home is a far cry from instilled aspects of higher values from the West. Whether we like it or not, we can list the reasons Western life is better by development due to how ingrained it has become in our brains. The unwiring needed to remove these perceptions is frightening. If anything, the respect and pride it amounts throughout the film, through amazing actors in a part of this appreciation that should be extended onto the Motherland.
Design and Score
Ruth Carter was the designer for the costumes within the film. Carter has worked with Spike Lee for also 3 decades – the same span of her career that has seen her design for many notable films. She was the costume designer for Malcom X (1992), Do the Right Thing (1989), Selma (2014) and much more. She claimed the project was thorough yet the most fulfilling in her career. The costumes carried an Afropunk inspiration which rally’s the message and content of the film. It carries and adds a coolness to a once mocked and undervalued perception of Africa. Carter imagined the future of the African American people, something she had concerned herself with Spike Lee. In an interview she admired the fact Coogler’s film-making inspiration stemmed from his Father taking him to see Malcom X as a child, it is almost fateful they worked together on this grand production.
Coogler also teamed up once again with Ludwig Goransson, the composer of his previous works. Goransson described his journey through parts of Africa, working with notable artists, championing his sounds through real-life experiences to build this incredible story by sound. The score is fantastic, bringing to life the grace of this ideal country – it reminds me of a real ambience most documentaries and viewings of Africa miss. It is empathetic, menacing and drawing upon the tones of most scenes – “Astral Plane” is my favourite, it is a luminous vibe that had me feeling soulful whilst lingering in limbo. Kendrick Lamar extends the amazing score into the production of a great album, each song offering an interpretation of the sounds for the film. This is the first album Marvel have commissioned from their creation, clearly, they realised the worth in the Black arts. Hence there is a focus on maximising interest whilst giving Ryan Coogler the tools to embark on this immense project.
Coogler’s previous films Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) are great works that involve Michael B. Jordan. As a pair, Michael B. Jordan’s best works have come through working with Coogler. His work transcends mere storytelling as his direction and script work attempts to unravel social conflicts within the Black community. It is this ideal that is evident in the storyline of Black Panther. I witness him as a true visionary, somewhat epitomising the Black identity through triggering detail. In a scene description video Coogler describes the carefully detailed placing of all aspects within. I found the Casino scene fascinating, his detail in colour codes and referencing, such as the Red, Black and Green dressing of Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, T’Challa and Nakia representing the pan African flag. He actively takes away from femininity, playing with the set and Characters with cinematography in respect of their skill and codes as individuals. Due to this conversation of Black representation in the last several years there is a sense of unity expressed in African diaspora.
The chemistry of the cast by their previous experiences in the film industry is something we cannot dismiss. Fruitvale Station (2013) is Coogler’s first film that is a biographical story showing the moments leading to the death of Oscar Grant III, killed by Police in another case of their brutality. Such incidents streamed through media have shamefully become a regularity remaining a reality of these twisted times. Creed (2015) also expanded on Coogler’s taste for film by reviving the excitement of the Rocky franchise through the fallen Apollo Creed’s son. Within film, I recognise this representational debate stemming from 12 Years A Slave (2013) which caused controversies about Black representation in Hollywood. The contention rested in the fact there is hardly an appreciation for any other narrative than slavery or crime influenced films. This excludes the brilliance of the Black community as well as losing chances to offer inspirational products and figures in other avenues. Since, we have received award-winning anomalies like Fences (2016), Moonlight (2016), Hidden Figures (2016) and Get Out (2017).
Coogler’s taste and passions with filmmaking show the studied the inclusion of actors such as Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o and Alex Hibbert, who cameos after a stunning role in Moonlight. Jordan Peele, the director of Get Out, recently described Kaluuya as his favourite actor – I feel his ability was not maximised in this film, but he still stems from these immense Black films. Unlike Get Out which danced around microaggressions presenting an epic divide within the film, Black Panther has been directed to be unfiltered Blackness with its rawness intensified by the African appeal of the film.
At the press screening my friend Alex stated he spoke to a White critic after the film, asking her what she thought. Her response? “The names were too hard to follow” – a comment that did not actually phase me, nit-picking at our cultural products that revolve around our identities covers the blindness most White journalists have when reviewing our livelihoods. I felt an aura of superiority stemming from those attendees, I hope it was not my own inadequacies piling. Afterward I did not bother speaking to them, instead I opted to dive into the goodness of other ecstatic appreciators of this production. I love the magnitude of this film as it triggers so much emotion within me. I felt drawn to the Characters adoring them individually, the smoothness of the story that had me focused on dialogue opposed to action, the awe-inspiring narratives which swung from empowering to incredibly saddening. I could spend so much time dwelling on the concepts of the film, diving into the extravagance of everything, I just feel this is a moment in history that we can uphold as a moral victory.
I do truly hope this can smooth over and opens up grounds for more appreciation, learning and communication to occur within the diaspora in regard to how we perceive each other. Especially regarding Africa, which I feel still has a projected idea of poorness in contrast to African American popularity and Caribbean attraction. My second viewing was at Genesis cinema, I watched the film with an astounded audience who cheered, laughed and gasped in unison. The surrounding is important though did not offset my viewing of it. One moment that captivated me was seeing three young Black boys, running around, falling over haphazardly. In between their great energy I heard shouts of “Black Panther” and my heart flushed. I also recall seeing an interview where Chadwick Boseman is moved to tears, recounting his experiences growing up with a lack of pure Black heroes. That is how important this is, perception is everything and I cannot imagine the wonders it will do for these young impressionable Black minds – that will receive this film and instil Black Superheroes and figures going into the future within their mind and hearts.