Black Panther Spoiler Review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.)

Let me start with this: Run, don’t walk, to the theater to see Black Panther. This is not hyperbole. It’s just that good. Heck, saying it’s just “good” is underselling it.

Black Panther is not only Marvel Studios’ best superhero film to date, it’s also an immediate shoo-in for one of the best films, if not the best film, of 2018. It’s only too easy to say director Ryan Coogler’s vision for Black Panther has simply moved the needle in terms of representation. What Coogler has done is create a space that didn’t exist before, a space for specifically black diasporic stories to have space on the big screen.

The distinction between “black” and “black diasporic” is an important one to make. Up until now, the mainstream has assumed “black” means a catch-all experience that can be boiled down to stereotype. But in actuality, our experiences as a people are much more diverse. In some ways, I think we ourselves forget just how rich and differentiating our life experiences as black diasporic people can be. But Black Panther tells a story that doesn’t just slap black faces on the front of a poster. This story is about the push and pull between black diasporic peoples as a whole, specifically the relationship between the African-American and the native African. In this way, the film is transcendent.

This story isn’t just meant for black viewers, though; Black Panther can definitely be used as an entryway by all into understanding more about Africa and the African diaspora. Just as important is the film’s ultimate message of empathy for everyone’s struggles, regardless of societal, racial, and ethnic divisions.

Black Panther Theater Attacks

A Marvel film that isn’t a “Marvel film”

This doesn’t get said a lot whenever Marvel releases a new film, but we can be honest with each other and recognize that Marvel has a formula with these MCU things, right? Counting race out of it (because it’s obvious every Marvel film so far has had a white male lead), the film usually follows the formula of showcasing a competent-or-above-average guy who somehow falls on hard times or somehow doesn’t realize his true potential. Then they go on a journey and, through hijinks, a lady, and that specific brand of Marvel Bro humor, find themselves and can finally become a bonafide Hero.

That was the formula, until Black Panther. This film still shows the journey of a man, but the film completely sidesteps the traditional MCU formula. This is not just a popcorn movie whose purpose is to advance a decade-long production plan.

Black Panther finally gave me what I expected from Thor, which is a drama on Shakespearean scale. The film doesn’t focus on T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) learning the ropes of being king in a off-handed way; there’s a real weight put to T’Challa’s trials to prove himself worthy. There are also real stakes. Whereas the action in latter-day Marvel films like the Avengers series show horrifying loss of life without any consequences whatsoever, Black Panther always reminds you that T’Challa is responsible for everyone in his kingdom, and that responsibility is heavy.

A call to action for the African diaspora

The emotional core of Black Panther is one that takes this movie out of the realm of traditional Marvel fare and places it on a pedestal of its own. There are plenty of indie films that cover the experience of being part of the African diaspora, but this is the first time in my memory that a mainstream film – a superhero film, no less – has captured the multifaceted experiences of being part of the diaspora in a way that didn’t solely focus on slavery or black trauma. Yes, trauma does define the film’s story, but thankfully, it’s not the only driving force the movie has when showcasing blackness. There’s a celebration of pan-Africanism, seen in the varied costumes, sets, and the design of Wakanda itself. The film sends a message to its African diasporic audience that whether or not you know your ancestors’ homeland, you can be proud to call yourself African.

I’d go as far as to say it’s hugely important for those of us in the diaspora, African-Americans in particular, to assert our Africanness. As we can see through Erik Stevens, AKA Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the shared trauma African-Americans have is exacerbated by how lost and separated we feel from our ancestors’ home. That wound is deepened even further when Africans themselves use the same prejudicial labels and stereotypes white America has used against us.

The rift is manifested in T’Challa’s father T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani, with the role played later by John Kani) and his ultimate betrayal of his brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). While N’Jobu is described by T’Chaka as becoming “radicalized” by his time in America, T’Chaka’s the one who refused to understand the hardships N’Jobu has witnessed. Instead of willing himself to see his brother’s side, he considers him a traitor and kills him in an effort to protect young Zuri (Denzel Whitaker, with the role later played by Forest Whitaker). T’Chaka doesn’t even contemplate N’Jobu’s son, young Erik (Seth Carr). Even though Erik is half Wakandan, T’Chaka considers him an outsider and fails to take him back to his father’s homeland. Every opportunity given to T’Chaka to do the right thing by N’Jobu and Eric – and by extension give honor to the African diasporic experience – is neglected. T’Chaka fails, and all of the diaspora fails when we turn on each other and forget our shared pain of colonialism and slavery.

The most powerful message the diaspora can take away from Black Panther is that we all must see ourselves in each other. We can not afford to divide ourselves any longer. The film calls us to band together to heal each other, otherwise, we’re only doing the colonizers’ work for them.

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About the Author

Monique Jones runs JUST ADD COLOR, a site focusing on race and culture in entertainment. She has written for Ebony, Tor, Black Girl Nerds, The Nerds of Color.