When I sat in the theater and screened Black Panther, I felt like the woman in the audience at the Five Heartbeats’ show who couldn’t stop squirming out of her seat. And then I Googled “Wakanda ticket prices,” as if the country were real.
The short review is: Black Panther is a thing of cinematic black excellence, and the world just has to deal. It’s everything you want it to be and more. I’m still hype, and I screened this movie Jan. 30 and kept my mouth shut about details all this time! I think I deserve an award.
I am going to try my best to wrap up my bubbling emotions (yes, still bubbling) into a cute little package for you all, just to tell you what you already know: Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is powerful enough to shift the planet. It’s like Coogler grabbed everything black people talk about in barbershops, church, kitchens, cookouts and group texts and wrapped it in Wakanda magic.
(Full disclosure: The Root was invited by Disney, and comped flight and hotel, to check out the film and meet the cast [OMG Michael B. Jordan] for interviews. I may or may not have swooned my way through each one. *sigh* Wakanda forever, for real.)
Imagine living in a northeastern country in Africa and having the entire world see you as a developing nation, but you’re literally sitting on a gold (vibranium) mine. If you’re triggered, it’s because, throughout this mystifying film, Coogler reminds you of how close the themes are to what’s happening or has happened in the world around us. The entire continent of Africa is often perceived as developing, when, in reality, it’s a rich land of kings and queens.
Wakanda (much like another fan favorite with a nod to the Motherland, Coming to America’s Zamunda) shows off its royalty through elaborate and blatant displays. Black Panther has a strong focus on legacy—who gets to be a part of it, how far a king would go to protect his country—but it also explores how the entire world changes because of an unexpected shakeup of political power (cough—Donald Trump—cough).
Black Panther is a Marvel Cinematic Universe that delivers a superhero story with heart, soul and rhythm. Black Panther confronts the conflict of being a wealthy nation refusing to disturb itself by helping the rest of the ailing world.
You can see immediately that the “good guy,” T’Challa, operates in a gray area. His choices are political and often clouded by his drive to protect his people. And even though the film is named for his superhero namesake and T’Challa is one of the most complicated of heroes, Chadwick Boseman plays it in a way that makes room for his star-studded ensemble cast to shine bright.
And no one shines like T’Challa’s little sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Wright is what Tiffany Haddish was to Girls Trip. Her hilarious one-liners from “whatter thooooosssee” to “colonizer” will have you wishing she was in every scene.
Wright’s Shuri works in the tech lab in the Wakanda kingdom. She’s in charge of all things Black Panther. She rebels against the poised nature found in royal bloodlines and wins you over with her espressolike spunk, quick wit and mind-shattering tech talents. Shuri is a beacon for little black girls who may have been called nerds as if that were a bad thing. Watching Shuri bounce around her lab, decorated in funky paintings, walls vibrating with music, is like sharing dreams in color of all the young black girls who code.
Black Panther delivers a message of power in many forms to young black girls. Every female character in this film has an arc that makes her live long after the credits roll. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is a stunning character, but Gurira’s portrayal of her makes me want to be a soldier—not for America, of course—for Wakanda. The Dora Milaje is a group of female soldiers devoted to T’Challa’s protection; they believe in their country over everything.
I will not spoil it for you, but the fight scenes in which the Dora Milaje are featured will have you signing up for all kinds of self-defense courses. But it’s Okoye and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) who are the Beyoncés of combat. As the leader of the Dora Milaje and a war dog, respectively, these women showcase a quiet inner and outer strength you’d want the entire movie wrapped around. And it does.
Black women are the stars here. From Okoye snatching off her own wig to Nakia using her heel as a weapon, there’s no denying this ode to black women.
“Show them who you are.” Ramonda (Angela Bassett) shouts at son T’Challa during a battle for the throne. “Stand up. You are a king,” T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka says to him from the afterlife.
These may have been encouraging words for T’Challa to dig in and fight harder, but they sank in for me. Black Panther was a full-on love letter to the Motherland, but there were also several smaller love notes to blackness throughout. Whether they were the cheers from Ramonda, or Nakia’s Bantu knots, or the Wakanda dignitaries with lip plates, or Wakandans speaking isiXhosa, a South African language known for its tongue clicks, there was more than enough evidence of the appreciation and adoration for all things black in this film.
Even Black Panther’s villain, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is someone to be proud of. Coogler uses him as a means to explore identity, legacy and the distress of black Americans.
Jordan’s Killmonger just might be the best villain I’ve seen since Heath Ledger’s the Joker. You immediately think Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue is going to be who T’Challa is up against, but Killmonger shuts that down quickly.
Killmonger is undoubtedly scary and will end your life without a first, second or third thought, but his heart is actually in the right place. He wants to fight for the black people who are left in America’s poverty and need just a taste of the riches Wakanda offers.
He’s the scariest villain because Killmonger actually believes in what he’s doing, and, honestly, so will you. He’s an advocate for black people outside of Wakanda. But we all know, black or white, Wakanda doesn’t do outsiders. Without saying too much, sometimes it be your own people.
Killmonger doesn’t want to take Wakanda down. He wants everyone to have a piece of the kingdom’s glory and is determined to make it happen by any means necessary—even if that means taking down T’Challa.
It’s clear why Michael B. Jordan is one of Ryan Coogler’s go-to stars. His range and depth are awe-inspiring. At one point, Killmonger shifts your entire morality by saying, “Bury me in the ocean where my ancestors jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Coogler’s genius can be seen and felt the entire time you’re sitting there, thrown smack-dab into Wakanda. I get antsy after about an hour and a half during movies, but Black Panther held my attention far longer.
Let’s all do what we can to make sure Ryan Coogler stays protected because we need his genius. We need his storytelling and his ability to make T’Challa and all of Wakanda jump off the comic book page with so much seasoning, I don’t think we even deserve it.
This movie is the epitome of Issa Rae’s “I’m rooting for everybody black.” Black Panther is an entire body raised in goosebumps. It’s a ride I wasn’t ready for, but would gladly ride over and over again. I already know I’m going to see this movie at least three more times. It’s the same reason Black Panther’s presale tickets have already outpaced those of any other superhero movie.
It’s about time we get to see our people in a movie like this. And this is only the beginning. We should all experience Black Panther.