A part of me wanted to give this movie five stars, just so I wouldn’t derail the Black Panther hype train that has been charging through the cultural consciousness for the last several months.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably at least a little aware that Black Panther has been the talk of North America (and maybe the world) since the beginning of 2017. It’s the story about T’Challa, the new kingd of the fictional African country of Wakanda, who is forced to take up the mantle of Black Panther and govern his nation after his father’s untimely death in the events of Captain America: Civil War.
Oh yeah—this is a Marvel movie. And by those standards, a pretty average one. You’ll find all the familiar beats: the massive fight scene with laser beams, the one-liners, the last-minute heroic saves, and the tried and true story arc in which the hero rises, falls, and then rises again when he/she finally learns to accept the significance of the power they hold.
As a superhero fan, I was slightly disappointed by how common the framework of Black Panther was. Maybe I got swept up by the hype and forgot that Black Panther is, for all intents and purposes, and origin film, which tend to be pretty basic in their execution (you have to wait for the inevitable sequels to get a little more depth). Yes, the movie is beautiful and the themes of afro-futurism were alive and well, and it all made for a unique moviegoing experience. Still, I was expecting more.
I decided to stop and think for a second; take a step back from my role as critic and shift my perspective. What are the undeniable truths about this film?
Black Panther is the first superhero blockbuster film to feature a predominantly black cast and crew. It’s not the first black superhero (don’t worry, Shaq, I didn’t forget about you) but it is the first superhero film that ties its entire narrative to the realities of being black in the modern day.
It’s also the first Marvel film to be featured on a Time magazine cover.
It’s also sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
And the #BlackPantherChallenge, an initiative that give black children who cannot afford a movie ticket a chance to see Black Panther in theatres, has raised over $300,000 since its inception.
Needless to say, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because Black Panther is less of a movie than it is a statement—a giant vibranium claw across Hollywood’s outdated perception of what a blockbuster should entail and who should be leading it ( Chris 4), to the media’s ongoing portrayal of people of colour as a lesser race consisting of thugs and criminals, to the systemic racism that has been woven into American society since the early days of colonialism. It’s fierce, empowering, and calculated. Black Panther didn’t drop out of the sky and fall into this position of magnitude: Ryan Coogler and company were hell bent on changing the status quo with every frame.
And that’s where the optimism begins to creep into my cynical heart. Movies like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, the new-gen Star Wars films feature visible minorities and have proven at every turn that diversity sells. As someone who was born in India and moved to North America at a very young age, I’ve faced my share of prejudice and seen how those from an Asian heritage are treated on and off-screen. Sprinkle a quip about how we smell here and there, add a pinch about how we’re undesirable and unattractive, and please, oh please, don’t forget the mimicry of our accents. That’s a real crowd pleaser.
It might seem weird to go off on a tangent about Asian discrimination when talking about a black superhero, but, for me, it’s all related. Black Panther has given me and many other minorities the opportunity to discuss racial perception, and as more and more high profile movies featuring minority ensembles grace the big screen, we’ll have more opportunities to educate, learn, and grow. Black Panther is a moment in history, and will have more impact outside of the theatertheatre than in.
So, objectively, even though I found Black Panther to be a pretty by-the-books Marvel movie in terms of execution and flow, I also found myself in a blissful position: that my opinion doesn’t matter. Because Black Panther is bigger than you or me; it’s a step forward into a much-needed diverse future.