As those who know me personally are aware, I am mixed race, half white and half black. There are some ways in which this matters a lot and brings some important meaning to who I am, how I feel, and to my views in life, and there are some ways in which this means nothing. My feelings about this movie are a mixture of both.
Another aspect of my identity and personality, probably far more significant to me than my race, is that I am a lifelong comic book geek, specifically a Marvel fan. As such, I have a heightened interest in and affection for Marvel movies and the Marvel universe, and a pretty solid understanding of the stories, characters, and themes of the comics on which these movies are based.
So for me, this movie connects two important aspects of my life in very exciting ways, and every since it was announced, I’ve been cautiously optimistic and hopeful that this movie would deliver.
So to get started, let me say this up front: this movie delivers.
It is exciting.
It is dramatic.
It is action-packed.
The characters are interesting and compelling.
And most of all: it’s just fun, which really should be the goal of any comic book movie.
The central theme of the movie is the internal struggle of the Black Panther, who is the king of the fictional Wakanda, over what kind of king to be, and what kind of kingdom he wants his homeland to be. It’s the ancient theme of the struggle to rule, both internally and externally. These themes are recognizable from Shakespeare and Machiavelli to Braveheart and Troy: what it means to be a just or effective ruler (can you be both?), what it takes to protect your people, how to defend your power within your kingdom, and the struggle between being a philosopher and a king. For a philosopher’s domain is Truth, and a king’s domain is Power. A philosopher can wax poetic about abstract, universal principles, while a king has the much more earthly concern with the welfare of his people, how they can sustain themselves, how they can perpetuate their culture, and how he can prevent or repel foreign invasion. The movie explores these themes on various levels, and it makes the viewer understand that these are not simple problems with easy solutions. It explores both king T’Challa’s internal struggles and his struggles with his enemies, within the kingdom and without.
But let’s not get too serious here. It is, after all, a comic book movie. While it does explore the themes I’ve mentioned, it is far more a comic book movie than a philosophical treatment of leadership. The characters are all fun, cool, and kick a lot of you-know-what. One thing that mildly and surprisingly pleased me was the scope of the powerful female characters in the movie. As a friend told me today, “I was expecting the movie to have strong black characters and to feel a sense of black empowerment, but I didn’t expect it to be so full of awesome female characters and have so much female empowerment!” And this is true. In fact, while I’ve only seen the movie one time, my sense is that there are actually more important female characters than male characters in this movie. And they are really cool characters that are fun to watch.
Overall, this movie really makes the grade, and I have to highly recommend that everyone watch it. There is a fair amount of politics and fanfare surrounding this movie, but I have to say it’s been handled pretty well and much more tastefully than I would have expected. I think there’s really no way to get around it, it is SUPER cool to see a movie comprised almost exclusively of black characters, and, but here’s the important part: a movie that’s NOT “about” black people, “about” black culture, “about” black struggles or history, or “about” black families and communities. It’s just a plain old super hero movie, about a hero who just *happens* to be black, in a kingdom that just *happens* to be in Africa. It’s just a story folks, it’s not about black people, and it’s not about being black. It’s just a cool, kick-ass story about heroes, villains, sword fights, cool hair, cool cars, and cool costumes. The black people in this movie aren’t one-dimensional. The hero is black. The villain is black, and he’s an evil S.O.B. (while also having a nuanced, understandable back story, “yay Marvel!”). The morally ambiguous spoiler is black. The people who support the hero are black. The people who betray the hero are black. Black people are good, bad, and everything in between in this movie. And that’s important. If a movie is going to be “for” black people in the marketplace, it has to represent black people as people, with every greatness, evil, virtue, and flaw of people. And this movie does that.
I was going to write a bit at the end about the politics contained in the movie, but I think I’ve said enough here about whether I recommend the movie or not, and that I should save that for a separate post.
The only thing that needs be said here is: go see Black Panther, as soon as you can!