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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Black Panther: Have We Turned the Corner?



Black Panther—Have We Turned the Corner? by Guy S. Malone, Researcher


This movie has already been dissected, parsed, and mythologized.  What is there to say that hasn't already been said?  So, let's start with the obvious: a Marvel film released in February will get a huge turnout, no matter the circumstances; that Black Panther is also the first with a predominantly Black cast brings an under-served audience to join built-in mad Marvel fans, propelling BP to historic heights.  The studio also struck a smart, respectful note, making BP the atypical stand-alone Marvel outing--not even a cameo from another Avenger.  Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole expand Stan Lee's original hero into a relevant modern-day morality tale in which even the antagonist has an understandable point.

Eons ago, a meteor crashed into the jungles of Africa, depositing the mother lode of vibranium, a rare metal of uncanny properties.  The peoples that inhabited this land soon learned the tremendous powers of vibranium, and as the metal enabled great technological advancements, the culture grew into the nation of Wakanda.  The people had the wisdom to understand the importance of hiding their wealth from imperialists and other exploiters, so they concealed their entire region within the the verdant forest. 

Flash to present day. After the assassination of his father, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the throne to rule Wakanda to rule not only as King but also to serve and protect his nation as Black Panther.  Early on, the conflict is introduced by his friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), who wishes T’Challa to use Wakanda’s hidden resources to help oppressed people and assume its place as a world power.  A more immediate problem arises, though, when Wakanda is beset by a breach of secrecy: some vibranium has been stolen by arch-villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and will be sold to the highest bidder in Seoul.  T’Challa takes off, accompanied by Wakandan spy, and his true love, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his elite all-female security force.  Assisting them remotely is his kid sister and scientific genius Shuri (Letitia Wright).  At the Korean casino where the exchange is to occur, they spot CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and everything becomes more complex.  The ensuing battle puts the strength and wile of all combatants, good and evil, on display.  It also serves as setup for the main conflict: between T’Challa and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), once the innocent victim of a wrathful mistake by T’Challa’s father, now a fearsome enemy bent on revenge.

No doubt, Black Panther will go down as one of the unqualified hits of the 2018 movie year, and that success also emphasizes the box office clout for high "status" films produced by and starring Black artists (add Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother and Forest Whitaker as the shaman to the list).  The talent on display in front of and at work behind the cameras provide both role models and ideals to which children of all races can aspire.  How can one not welcome such success? 

As laudatory as this is, we should temper our enthusiasm with a dose of big-picture reality.  So many have written about A) what a great film Black Panther is, and B) how it represents a turning point in the acceptance of status films representing and produced by the Black community.  Let’s examine it: Regarding point A: how great is the film?  Well, it is a Marvel film, so it’s well-executed, has tremendous CGI, and the script has a just enough humor to show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  But it IS a Marvel film, so it’s graded on an easier curve by many critics, most notably Entertainment Weekly (who has graded only one of 18 Marvel films below a B-) and the Rotten Tomatoes fanboy critics, who treat Marvel movies and Star Wars entries like they are Citizen Kane.  Like most Marvel movies, there is no real sense of imminent peril; in the case of BP, it’s because vibranium is so powerful and versatile, and Shuri’s genius so all-encompassing, that deuses are ex machina-ing all over the place.  And while a compelling antagonist is expected, especially as played by Jordan, it is a surprise that Wright and Gurira in support outshine Boseman and Nyong’o's leads.  And what Marvel movie worth its salt would be without a final battle that’s ten minutes too long.  As to point B, we would be more willing to see a turning point in acceptance of high stature Black films had last year's excellent Best Picture winner Moonlight earned more that a paltry $28 million domestic gross.  Times change, you say?  Not so much: the expected box office juggernaut expected of the Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay treatment of the classic story A Wrinkle in Time never realized its potential.  So, have we turned the egalitarian corner with Black Panther? No, but it is a big step in the right direction.  Now, if T’Challa turns out to be one of the leads in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War
8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale

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