As my iPhone shows the “Delivered” message next to yet another Black Panther meme sent to my boyfriend, I again marvel at how great of movie it was (see what I did there?). My favorite so far is a simple text post pointing out how T’Challa competes for (and some would say wins) the position of the coolest character in Civil War, but is roasted for the entirety of his own movie.
The buzz around the release of this chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was no small ordeal. While featuring an almost all black cast, its release within the heart of black history month adds a significance to the movie that feels weighty in a world where race is becoming more and more part of the political dialogue. To me, one of the most beautiful results of this movie is seeing posts of black children dressed as Shuri, T’Challa, M’Baku, Okoye, Nakia and other heros that look a little more like them than many of the previous big screen heros.
I think that the power of this movie comes from the main character, T’Challa. I want to make it very clear that I am addressing the T’Challa from the Cinematic Universe and not from the comics that the character originated from.
If you haven’t seen this movie, there are some major spoilers ahead!
T’Challa is made the king of Wakanda, a thriving, technologically advanced African nation after the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. Wakanda has kept itself off of the global radar for centuries, a contention point with T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia, a woman who’s heart is dedicated to standing up for the oppressed, regardless of their nationality. I could talk about my love for her for hours.
The primary adversary in the movie Black Panther is Erik Killmonger, the son of a Wakandan prince that grew up in Oakland, California and loses his father suddenly at a young age at the hands of T’Challa’s father. As T’Challa’s cousin, Killmonger has the right to compete for the throne and travels to Africa to take it.
Killmonger and T’Challa have very different views on Wakanda’s place in the world. Where Killmonger wishes to use the resources of Wakanda to conquer, T’Challa wishes to honor his father and stick to the old ways. Killmonger demands war and retribution, T’Challa wishes for peace. Ryan Coogler does an amazing job of allowing the audience to see past the bruatily and glimpse into the humanity of Killmonger. We see the pain, the anger, and our hearts break for the injustice that has happened to him but it is also very clear that he is the villain in this story.
My respect for T’Challa comes from the fact that he is deeply changed by his interaction with Killmonger. While he does not adopt Killmonger’s radical ideas, he listens to understand and responds by taking a step towards a better a future for those within and outside of Wakanda borders. He marks a change in this fictional country’s history and is the first king to accept and include M’Baku and the Jabari tribe as a part of Wakanda. Even if they are vegetarians.
My respect is furthered by the sensitivity of T’Challa. In this movie, we get to see how T’Challa interacts with his family and it’s through interactions with his sister and technological guru, Shuri (my favorite Disney princess), his chief of the army and political confidant, Okoye, and Nakia, the strong willed woman who makes him look like an antelope in headlights, that you get to see how he upholds women. Each of these women, he treats with respect and dignity. He trusts each of them as a capable and important member of his team.
Not only that, he is a man that is close to his father, accepting affection and crying “baba” as he holds a dying man. He does not hold so tightly to a singular view of masculinity that he misses out on deep relationships. He is a good man, which makes it difficult for him to be king.
Black Panther is a powerful movie, one that can be watched again and again and enjoyed every time (my boyfriend has already seen it four times and he still loves it). Throwing all historic significance aside, this movie is simply a well made movie. I would make sure that I saw it before it left theaters!
(And also that movie album tho…. Pure fire!)