By: Grace Rose
Marvel’s Black Panther is easily one of the most anticipated films of 2018. Beginning with the cast announcement at San Diego Comic Con back in 2016, the film features a stellar cast led by a young visionary director as they bring this fictional world to life.
The story revolves around T’Challa, the newly appointed king of the fictional nation of Wakanda. This nation masquerades as an impoverished developing country despite being one of the most advanced civilizations in the world — all built using the fictional mineral vibranium. It has remained untouched by European colonialism and has flourished under the leadership and protection of the Black Panther, a title given to the king of Wakanda, who is armed with heightened physical abilities, powerful technology, and is supported by an incredible group of women called the Dora Milaje. The film sees T’Challa protecting Wakanda from Erik Killmonger, an unknown figure with a dark past.
One of the most significant components of the film is the fact that it is a major blockbuster featuring an almost all-black cast with a story that doesn’t revolve around black trauma (i.e. a film about slavery, Civil Rights era, modern day hood stories, etc.). Instead it focuses on creating complex characters with depth. It is important to note that this character was originally created by two white men as an attempt to diversify the mainstream comic book character landscape which was predominately white. This means that the characters are not imaginations of how black people see themselves, but instead how white people would create and establish them. With that said, director Ryan Coogler does a brilliant job of remaining true to the original source material, yet reimagining them within a black lens. He is able to pull a complexity out of the characters that enables the audience to both revel in the glory and celebration of black royalty while simultaneously addressing the traumatic consequences of being black in a colonized world.
Extending from this, the women in this film are presented with a regal excellence that allows them to flourish as standalone characters. Newcomer Letitia Wright stands out as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and the technological mastermind behind many of Wakanda’s technological advancements. Her character has a balance of youthfulness, brilliance, and fun that causes her to shine in every scene that she’s in. Yet when she is on screen with Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o, she maintains a fierceness and boldness that makes her just as magnetic as Gurira and Nyong’o. I’m excited to see where she goes from here.
Visually, Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler pull upon the Afrofuturist visual arts tradition while infusing it with elements of various existing African cultures to create a stunning piece of work. From various natural hairstyles, to costuming and lighting, the artistic elements of the film create a lush tapestry that serves as both a stunning background and an integral element of the story. It subverts the images of an impoverished African continent and does the vital work of changing the narrative of how African nations are understood. While the country may be fictional, the story is able to pull together a variety of real life influences to create a piece that celebrates blackness, black people, and black culture in a very real and authentic way.