I had texted a friend: “I sensed from the trailer that there’s gonna be something special about this movie, but I haven’t seen it yet…what did you think?” Her response back was glowing:
I’ll have to call you.
Too much to text.
It was unbelievable.
This is such a monumental moment for our black community. We are all so proud!
I mentioned how much my friend loved the movie to my husband and he said, “Noooo, don’t tell me– what if it’s overhyped and then I’m disappointed?”
Long story short: this movie is anything but disappointing.
(There’s some slight spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen it yet.)
There are at least 10 things that set Black Panther apart from other superhero movies, and even movies in general, that I’m excited to share with you. The world needs more movies like this one! In no particular order:
#1. Compelling performances across the board, from Chadwick Boseman to Lupita N’yongo to Michael B. Jordan to Danai Gurira to many more.
I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire movie. Now part of that was because I’m short and couldn’t see over the ledge to read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. But the other reason was because the characters had such depth and nuance:
We want to root for T’Challa because of the example he sets for his kingdom and his desire to do what is right in the end. He extends mercy to those who don’t deserve it. We know that Killmonger is the villain, but we see that he desires equality and is troubled by injustice, even though his methods of restoring justice are wrong. I was annoyed by Everett’s dismissive attitude, but then we see just how sacrificial he is towards others. We see the power of Nakia’s loyalty even when it seems that hope is lost.
Black Panther sets the bar high for acting in future superhero films. My only wish was that Sterling K. Brown had more screentime since he is so talented in This Is Us, but unfortunately he wasn’t a large part of the storyline.
#2. It is a visually stunning film.
The city of Wakanda, the spaceships reminiscient of insects, the vivid colors and patterns of the characters’ clothing, and the integration of different African cultures with space age technology is simply beautifully done. So many superhero films are about New York City getting destroyed, so it was nice to see a different storyline for a change. Superhero films in particular recycle the same characters, settings, and plot lines over and over, so it was refreshing to see a story that’s more unique than the films before it.
A particularly nice touch was having a scene start with an upside down view and then having the camera slowly right itself, symbolizing the upheaval that the villian was causing in that moment. This camera trick is also symbolic of Black Panther‘s tendency overall to flip stereotypes and expectations upside down throughout the film.
#3. Humorous moments that hit the mark.
This is where the recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi failed. In The Last Jedi, the humor felt forced, it drew attention to itself, and it just seemed out of place in general. Whereas with Black Panther, the audience was actually laughing out loud during several moments of the film. I don’t know which was better– Mbaku’s comment made about being a vegetarian during what you think is a very tense moment, or the audience’s reaction to it.
#4. Better representation for people of color and women in a superhero film.
Much of the buzz about Black Panther is because there hasn’t been great representation for people of color in superhero films, and this film is a step in the right direction in that regard. (If you’re interested in more thoughts about representation in films, check out Want To See Change In Hollywood? Then You Need To Do This.)
Women aren’t just limited to being the lone “sexy sidekick” in Black Panther. They are the king’s bodyguards. They are the queens of a country. They are the ones saving lives. They fight alongside the men and have equally compelling dialogue and stories.
#5. A focus on a woman as the “tech genius” of the film.
A common superhero character archtype is that of the “tech genius” who runs logistics behind the scenes. These are the computer programmers, the nerdy scientists, the ones in hotel rooms furiously hacking into systems to help the hero avoid detection on security cameras. They are rarely however, women. But Letitia Wright shines as Shuri, the tech-obsessed younger sister of T’Challa. Shuri’s enthusiasm for her creations is infectious, and I hope that she inspires teenage girls who want to be programmers and engineers someday.
#6. Women have an active role instead of being passively “saved.”
This movie has no stereotypical “beautiful woman captured by an evil genius/alien/giant gorilla needs saving” storyline, and that’s refreshing to see. Nakia and Okoye have some pretty epic fight scenes. Women save T’Challa’s life. Shuri’s tech skills are crucial to T’Challa in a car chase scene. (I won’t give too much away, but he wouldn’t be able to pursue a villain without her helping him in a unique way.)
#7. It’s less about “stop the giant bomb/computer virus/plague that will end the world” and more about resentment and anger related to family dynamics and injustice.
Sure there’s a villian who needs to be stopped. But even though Killmonger is a villian, you have some sympathy for him when you realize why he is so angry.
#8. It’s less about a “how do we stop the giant bomb?” storyline and more about questions that are harder to answer:
Do we who are better off have an obligation to help those who are not, especially when helping puts ourselves at risk? What are our obligations to our families and our neighbors? How do we respond to injustice in the world?
#9. The women of Black Panther have clothing and accessories that fit their roles.
While the women of Black Panther are certainly beautiful, their beauty is highlighted in a positive and real way. You won’t see super short tight mini skirts or absurd high heels. Their clothing and shoes are actually realistic for what they are doing. Shuri is busy creating tech that will save her brother’s life; she wears sneakers. Nakia and Okoye are busy fighting villians; they have flat boots. This may sound like a trivial point, but it’s not: ever see a man in these types of movies chasing a villian down a crowded street in high heels and a mini skirt? No, that’s ridiculous, you’d say. Exactly. And yet no one blinks if a woman in a film does this. Because for some reason, a woman typically needs to be “more attractive” in order to chase bad guys? Not so in this film.
One of my favorite small moments in Black Panther is when Okoye takes off the “stereotypically pretty” curly hair that she’s been wearing as a disguise before beginning a battle with the bad guys. She is clearly annoyed by it in this scene and she doesn’t need it to be beautiful.
#10. T’Challa’s respect for Nakia is admirable.
In T’Challa’s character, you see a man who clearly cares for a woman, and yet he does not push himself on her. He patiently waits for her to realize that she still loves him. He does not try to seduce her into bed. They don’t even kiss until the end of the movie, but T’Challa is respectful even in this– he doesn’t grab her dramatically and force her to kiss him, as is typical in so many movies. You can tell T’Challa values Nakia’s opinions and her desires for what she wants to do in life. I hope we see more of their story in future Black Panther sequels.
Black Panther doesn’t just want to entertain us, it wants us to think. It shows us that depth and substance can exist in a movie genre full of stereotypes and guys in capes. If any of the 10 things above resonated with you, then you’ll want to see this movie. Probably more than once!
Have you seen Black Panther? What did you think? Please share in the comments!
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Black Panther images from imdb.com