What started with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, came to fruition last week with Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther”, hitting the theaters and breaking records.
According to Forbes, “Black Panther” broke all box office records with its $235 million debut so far. The movie has taken the world by storm, and no one is complaining.
“Black Panther” documents the journey of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) while he takes on the challenge of succeeding his father as the King of Wakanda (the fictional Marvel African nation). After the death of his father, T’Challa must step into T’Chaka’s shoes and serve his nation and protect not just Wakanda, but the fate of the entire world.
Although, I believe the story largely depicts what it’s like to be an African in today’s world. And to top it off, the picturesque representation of African identity and culture is beyond beautiful.
The film’s ground-breaking work of art characterises the white people as the ‘other’, ‘coloniser’ and the ‘enemy’.
These contrasts and ironies were not lost in the imagery of a technologically advanced and well developed third-world Wakanda. The depiction of ‘white crime’ in a socio-cultural status quo of the city of Africa also works to the movie’s advantage.
The heart-shaped herb, growing naturally in Wakanda, grants superpowers and makes Black Panther god-like. Along with the wish-granting purple liquid herb, T’Challa was also expected to take on a lifetime of training and combat. This highlights the symbiosis between tradition and technology.
Depicting a traditional Africa which is much advanced than its first-world counterparts may be a mythological thought, but has managed to comfortably deliver the message of an emerging Africa.
Mythology met technology and black culture reigned in the Wakandan territory. The ending saw this reign being placed in the centre stage of the global community with Wakanda opening its doors to international trade and alliance.
No doubt, the women in “Black Panther” took the centre stage. T’Challa’s immediate army and entourage saw the strongest of females in the lead, guiding and automating him through his conquests.
The movie empowers young, badass black women who fight with spears and vibranium.
The all-women army of Dora Milaje warriors embodies the soul of the 19th century Dahomey Amazons. The female influences who make T’Challa’s immediate council including the queen mother (Ramonda a.k.a Angela Bassett), his scientist sister (Shuri a.k.a Letitia Wright), his humanitarian and badass love interest (Nakia a.k.a Lupita Nyong’o), and of course the front fighter of the crew (Okoye a.k.a Danai Gurira), cannot be understated. The depiction of empowered African women in the movie alone is commendable.
After all, representation in cinema is half the battle won.
“Everybody dies, it’s just life around here,” says Eric Killmonger.
Killmonger wanted to usurp T’Challa’s power and hold on Wakanda. He advocates a more radical outlook towards liberation. He wanted to extract Wakanda’s wealth and place it beyond its border, into the hands of the less resourceful who were willing to overthrow authorities all over the world.
The grey shades to Killmonger’s character signals a cultural conflict. The ‘outsider’ label that came to his claim to the throne leads him into challenging T’Challa in combat, stripping him of all his panther powers.
The ending of “Black Panther” is an integration of Killmonger and T’Challa’s ideological take on the implementation of Wakanda’s resources. While Killmonger wanted to empower the oppressed to rage war, T’Challa decided to engage in diplomacy and international trade to share Wakanda’s resources with the world.
Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, combines subdued plots of the movie. Some of the hottest names in the industry can be seen collaborating with the king of rap including The Weeknd, Jay Rock, Future, James Blake, SZA, Travis Scott, Zacari, 2Chains, Jorja Smith, Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok, among others.
The album brilliantly complements the political undertone of Coogler’s script. Starting from the scene where Klause is being chased while “Opps“ plays in the background. The aggressive “You’re dead to me” throughout the chase of things sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
The album commences with Kendrick rapping T’Challa’s “Black Panther” theme song hailing him as the king.
“Because the king don’t cry, king don’t die
King don’t lie, king give heart, king get by, king don’t fall
Kingdom come, when I come, you know why
King, king, king, king
I am T’Challa”
Whereas the track “King’s Dead” has been performed from Killmonger’s perspective, especially the one minute solo rap in the song.
“Fuck your moral, fuck your family, fuck your tribe
Fuck your land, fuck your children, fuck your wives
Who am I? Not your father, not your brother
Not your reason, not your future
Not your comfort, not your reverence, not your glory
Not your heaven, not your angel, not your spirit
Not your message, not your freedom
Not your people, not your neighbor
Not your baby, not your equal
Not the title y’all want me under
All hail King Killmonger”
Kendrick’s shapeshifting soul embodiment of the protagonist and the antagonist is commendable.
And especially, if we talk about the end credits song and the video for “All the Stars” feat. SZA, one can draw parallels from the plot.
The first and the last scenes of the video specifically signal parallels to the Wakandan culture. The video starts with Kendrick’s entrance in a messiah sort of way, and ends with him looking up to large black women, chin up.
The “Pray for me” collab with The Weekend also highlights the conflict and war-like situation that looms Wakanda.
“I’m always ready for a war again
Go down that road again
It’s all the same.
Mass destruction and mass corruption
The souls of sufferin’ men
Clutchin’ on deaf ears again, rapture is comin
It’s all prophecy and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good
Then that’s what it gotta be”
In an interview with the New York Times, the cast discusses how being chosen for Black Panther was a revolutionary, once-in-a-lifetime moment. Michael B. Jordan believes the movie has set the trend for others to tell bold stories in Hollywood, while Boseman believes Black Panther will change the stereotype that “movies with black cast do not perform well internationally.”
On the other hand, Ryan Coogler identifies the most with Killmonger’s character and claims that writing and making “Black Panther” has finally made him a complete and whole human being as opposed to living with a Killmonger fracture all his life.
The narrative of an unknown, secretive Africa which is not the underdog, but a protector of the rest of the civilization, has resonated well with the audiences. Watching one of the oldest civilizations take mainstage in the world of cinema with a bomb cast, great performances, powerful script and even powerful music is what holistic cinema is all about.