Wakanda Forever!: A Review of (and Love Letter to) “Black Panther”

Written by C.Diva

***some vague spoilers ahead***

Throughout all of 2017, as the black community prepared for the February 16 release of this film, I wondered two things; first, if the movie would be able to withstand all the hype surrounding it and two, if I’d ever be able to objectively review this film. When I say the black community, I mean every black person from pastors to comic book nerds and all of us in between had something to say about Black Panther.  Black women who had little to no interest in the MCU, spoke to me about the technology of Wakanda, the Dora Milaje and all their badassery. I had conversations with black folks at church, birthday brunches, laser tag parties and at university about the costumes of Black Panther or the fact that we have never seen so many faces that look like ours in a movie of this magnitude with this big of a budget. In fact, Ryan Coogler is the first black director given a budget as large as $200 mil, which he made back for the film in the first weekend. Marvel knows how to promote a film, and Black Panther had double hype placed on it by the comic book and black communities. The internet and social media lost their collective shit every time a new Black Panther trailer dropped, whenever we got a glimpse of what the final product might look like. At San Diego Comic Con in July of 2017, I ran into two young, black cosplayers dressed as T’Challa and Nakia and we chatted about how important representation in this film could be for black folks. This has been a long time coming, friends.

As the release date got closer and some of the press began to have access to the film, even through the embargo, vague phrases like, “changed my life” and “African folktale” began to circulate. Before I even saw the film I wondered if Black Panther could possibly live up to the expectations that I and the rest of the black community had already placed on it.

Short answer is, yes.

Ruth Carter did an amazing job on the costumes and should receive an Oscar nod even now, a full year away from when this film would be eligible. The cinematography is breathtaking. The soundtrack, free on Spotify and put together by my boy Kendrick Lamar, bangs. The script ties into the larger MCU and will definitely become a bridge between the old Marvel Universe and the new. The characters are fresh and unique, and the actors’ diversity gives audiences a glimpse at the variety of black folks across the world. Wakanda is an African paradise, one untouched by colonization and Western values. Wakanda has the power and technology to rule the world, and yet have been governed by the most benevolent and wise of all of Wakanda’s six tribes, who, when they are all on screen together, give me absolute chills. The backstory of this film is powerful and complex, a reflection on the African communities of the world, with Killmonger and the African-American struggle representing a moral divide that is very familiar in our current political climate.

In my objectivity, I know that the film isn’t perfect and has its flaws. I would have liked more character development with the female characters. I want to know more about the Dora Milaje and about the War Dogs. Give me some Nakia/T’Challa back story, please. Black Panther isn’t going to please everyone, but I don’t think that’s the point. Just check out some of the ways Black Panther has affected the black community so far by looking at a few of the Twitter hashtags that have popped up over the last few months. #WakandaForever, #BlackPantherSoLit and #WakandaCameToSlay are just three of the many ways that black folks have expressed their love for this film through cosplay, creative fanworks, and, of course, spending our hard earned money on Black Panther merch.

Black Panther isn’t going to facilitate a political revolution. What Black Panther does, though, is reflect an afrofuturistic black utopia, a place of imperfection but ultimately held together by love and community. This story could have been told decades ago and it feels as if it should have. Something in me aches for Wakanda and the way Marvel has created an intricate tale of wonder and community in the middle of the infinite chaos that is mankind, in the middle of Africa. Kids all over the world are going to see this film and in it they will witness strong black men and women who love their families, who cry, who are strong and weak in their own ways, who are nuanced and varied. Kids will see these images and normalize them, an amazing feat for a community that is usually represented on screen as gangsters, rappers, bad fathers, angry women or drug users.

In the theatre, as I watched Black Panther for the first time this weekend (I’ve seen it twice, so far), my daughter and I settled into our seats and noticed that we were surrounded by black women in groups and by themselves, all of us ready to enjoy the strong images of black culture and, specifically, other black women. Parents much like me readied themselves and their children to be taken to the fictional world of Wakanda, an African folktale that Marvel has tied in beautifully with the cinematic narrative they’ve been developing my entire adult life. In all honesty, though, this feels like the first superhero movie I’ve ever really seen.