Black Panther was the most recent movie I saw on February 16, 2018. The film director was Ryan Coogler and it consisted of A-list actors and actresses such as Chadwick Boseman, Micheal B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, and many more. Ryan Coogler wanted to take the movie direction back to the African American roots and it was the first Marvel movie series to feature predominantly African American cast. The Black Panther is a very powerful and has been looked up to for centuries due to its strength and power. The movie displayed traditional and tribal rituals in a land of technology. The film conveyed angles such as bird’s eye, close up, medium shot, long shot, dutch angle, high angle and low angle. It was a beautiful thing how Ryan Cooglar and company bought into a being world where the destruction of the collective black body is not inevitable but actually impossible.
One of most noble aims of Black Panther is how it dreams of and conceives of an intact Black body—both the intact national body of Wakanda as well the actual intact body of T’Challa in his suit. Black Panther costume consisted of 3D printing so that it could achieve the anticipated effect on how the armor prevailed as jewelry. Like Luke Cage (another Black Marvel character who is impervious to bullets), the fantasy for individual and collective Black bodies to be impervious to the violence of colonialism and racism is laudable. When we are saturated in a visual culture where national Black bodies are called “shitholes” by the American president and the individual bodies of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland are visualized as inevitably vulnerable, it is a beautiful thing how Coogler and company bring into a being a world where the destruction of the collective Black body is not inevitable but actually impossible. A consequence of seeing one Black character in a diverse cast sends the message that Black people ought to get as close to white people as they can—and not turn to other people of color—if they want to develop intimacy, love, and power. This is not a problem in Black Panther, in which nearly every touch, every relationship, and every plot point exists is to build connection between African American characters.
The real heroes of Black Panther and Afrofuturism, who make such a vision possible: Black women. Though Wakanda seems to be a patriarchal monarchy passed down through male heirs—unless another man can beat him for the throne?—it is the women of Wakanda who get shit done. T’Challa’s suit was made by his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), a counterpart to Q, James Bond’s inventor colleague (though Shuri is as hilariously anti-colonialist as Q was birthed in service to his majesty’s colonialism). Fighting without T’Challa’s panther suit, Wakanda’s women are far more fierce than its men, particularly the sublime Danai Gurira as Okoye.
it’s fitting that Black Panther’s women are so central to its world because women have been so responsible for Afrofuturism and the ways science, science fiction, and storytelling have created space for Coogler’s vision. T’Challa is supposed to take over from his father because he is a “good man” while T’Chaka’s widow, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), looks on. And that brings us to how Black Panther didn’t work for me: I couldn’t bring myself to root for T’Challa—who honestly was pretty boring but was very respectable—when he was challenged by his American-bred cousin, Erik Killmonger. Killmonger is the bad boy, the violent African-American, the lost son separated from the motherland; but he, too, was searching for an intact Black body, only to be largely rejected because he didn’t come from the right lineage.
How could I root against Killmonger—especially when seeing him as a kid in Oakland is so evocative of the life of Oscar Grant, whom Michael B. Jordan so lovingly portrayed in Fruitvale Station? But it’s actually another Jordan portrayal rattling inside of Killmonger that made it so hard for me to root against him: Adonis Johnson in Creed. In Black Panther, Jordan’s Killmonger is an unrespectable “illegitimate” relative who is angry about his cousin T’Challa (whose father murdered Killmonger’s dad) taking the Wakanda throne. In Creed, Jordan’s Adonis Johnson is an “illegitimate” child born from an extramarital affair of boxer Apollo Creed. When Adonis wound up in jail and his father’s widow came to bail him out, I felt that Coogler and Jordan were doing something revolutionary.
Killmonger wants to use Wakanda’s weapons to stop the suffering of Black people globally, and we, the audience, are manipulated into rooting against this because we live in an ideology in which nonviolence is always expected of Black people no matter what. As James Baldwin wrote, “The real reason that nonviolence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes… is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened.” I could not bring myself to root against Killmonger’s desire to help the Black diaspora any more than I could begrudge him wanting to take the throne of his child of the man who’d killed his father.
But most disappointing was how Killmonger was morally positioned in contrast to the white CIA agent, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Coogler sets up the audience to dislike Killmonger because he was made to kill many people by the U.S. military; meanwhile, after saving a Wakanda woman’s life, Ross was turned into your friendly neighborhood CIA agent. Every scar on Killmonger’s hot, shirtless torso is for someone he’s taken out—including many Black people. It is Ross (while using Shuri’s technology) who actually stops Killmonger’s crew from exporting weapons from Wakanda to help Black people.