Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther
“A jolt of a movie, Black Panther creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth.” So begins Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.” With Creed (2015), Ryan Coogler “shook the dust off the Rocky series by giving it an African-American champion played by Michael B. Jordan. For Black Panther, Mr. Coogler brought back both Mr. Jordan and some former crew members—including Rachel Morrison, the director of photography on his first feature Fruitvale Station—continuity that may help account for this movie’s intimacy and fluidity.”
What we have here is “the best Marvel movie so far, by far,” declares IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “Nobody has ever seen anything like Black Panther—not just an entire civilization built from the metal stuff inside Captain America’s shield, and not even just a massive superhero movie populated almost entirely by black people, but also a Marvel film that actually feels like it takes place in the real world.”
It stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, “the African king who fights evildoers in the guise of a wildcat,” explains David Edelstein at Vulture. “It’s primarily set in Wakanda, described in onscreen news accounts as Africa’s poorest country. (Trump would have choice words about Wakandan immigration.) But the poverty turns out to be surface deep, literally. Under a lush cover of trees is a city both ancient and futuristic, where sonic-powered railways snake among great stone towers, the works fueled by the metal Vibranium . . . T’Challa’s do-gooder on-and-off girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), is bent on crossing the border to help other imperiled African countries. Far more dangerous, though, is the aptly named militant Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who looks to Vibranium to power a full-scale international race war.” Black Panther is “is unusually grounded for a Marvel superhero epic, and unusually gripping.”
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin notes that Black Panther “is far from the first black comic-book star to get a film of his own: that would be Spawn in 1997, followed by Wesley Snipes’s Blade the following year, both of whom landed long before the genre mushroomed. Yet he is the first to lean heavily into an ethos known as Afrofuturism—very roughly speaking, an approach to science fiction and fantasy grounded in black experience and the cultures of the African continent. In music, it’s been thriving for sixty years plus, thanks to acts from Sun Ra to George Clinton and Janelle Monaé. But in film it never emerged from its niche. . . . Perhaps, that is, until now.”
“It’s an action-adventure origin myth which plays less like a conventional superhero film and more like a radical Brigadoon or a delirious adventure by Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs,” suggests the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “Those were the colonial-era mythmakers whose exoticism must surely have influenced Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when they devised the comic books in the 1960s, supplying the Afro- in the steely afrofuturism of Black Panther that generations of fans have treasured and reclaimed as an alternative to the pop culture of white America. But it’s the futurism that gives Black Panther his distinctive power.”
“What would this film have been like if its action scenes had been cut cleanly and clearly, instead of chopped into the usual wasteful, visually confusing slice-and-dice mashup?” asks Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “The whole thing moves a little too fast: There are so many gorgeous details—from Ruth E. Carter’s Afro-futuristic costumes to Hannah Beachler’s Emerald City-a-go-go production design—that you might find yourself wishing you could linger on certain images just a bit longer. But Black Panther is still a cut above—perhaps many cuts above—any other recent superhero movie, and some not-so-recent ones too.”
“It starts a little slowly,” notes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush. “But then T’Challa and his crew return to Wakanda, and just about every scene from that point forward is better than the one that preceded it.” And TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde finds a good number of “thrilling moments that make the film’s occasional pacing lapses forgivable.”
This is “a superhero movie which is part spy thriller, part all-out battle, and part social commentary,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson, “and while all the pieces don’t always work, Black Panther is consistently propelled by tonal and thematic flourishes that break with the conventions that have defined this lucrative franchise.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy notes that “the usual Marvel post-credits teaser reminds us that its next offering will be Avengers: Infinity War, coming May 4 and in which T'Challa/Black Panther also appears.” Peter Debruge warns of “mild spoilers” before launching into his review for Variety: “Virtually everything that distinguishes Black Panther from past Marvel pics works to this standalone entry’s advantage.” More from Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+), Mike Ryan (Uproxx), and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times).
Writing for Little White Lies,Callum Costello argues that “Black Panther shouldn’t be read as a film about a black superhero, but rather a black film about a superhero.”
Last October, Tre Johnson, writing for Rolling Stone, noted that “Coogler has set out to do something with the modern black superhero that all previous iterations have fallen short of doing: making it respectable, imaginative and powerful. The Afro-punk aesthetic, the unapologetic black swagger, the miniscule appearances from non-black characters—it’s an important resetting of a standard of what’s possible around creating a mythology for a black superhero.”
Ramin Setoodeh interviews Boseman and Coogler for the new Variety cover story, and inside, Marc Bernardin talks with Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote the movie with Coogler, and Evan Narcisse, co-writer of Rise of Black Panther for Marvel Comics.
Updates, 2/8: “It hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already enormous,” writes Jamil Smith in a cover story for Time. “It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors.”
“Black Panther champions, and makes champions of, underserved demographics in a way that’s somehow both casual and defiant, a statement of strength that proudly insists it needed no stating to begin with,” writes Richard Lawson for Vanity Fair. “Coogler has assembled a crackerjack team of actors to be the vessels of that message—a spirited ensemble that deftly maneuvers the movie’s shifts between high drama and amiable humor.”
Jen Yamato talks with Boseman for the Los Angeles Times: “Most African Americans have had a moment where they’re like, ‘I know I’m of African descent—but I don't have that connection.’ . . . That’s something that’s broken and has to be made whole.”
Updates, 2/9: “This is a Marvel Studios production first and foremost,” writes Keith Uhlich for Slant, “and you're never going to forget it in light of the pro forma plotting, CG sturm und drang, and gratuitous Stan Lee cameo. Yet the external pressures surrounding the film—chiefly its status as the superhero flick involving and revolving around people of color—have kept the bean counters somewhat at bay. That, plus the fact that Coogler, who penned the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, is able to give many things here that impassioned, obsessional tinge required of memorable, if not always masterful, art.”
“Not since Spike Lee’s Malcolm X in 1992 has there been so much hype and hope for a movie among African-American audiences,” writes Salamishah Tillet for the New York Times. “From special group outings planned by excited fans to crowdfunding campaigns to ensure children can see it, Black Panther is shaping up to be a phenomenon.”
Updates, 2/10: “It’s a great relief to confirm that Black Panther is genuinely worth rooting for,” writes Kristen Yoonsoo Kim in the Village Voice. “It’s only Ryan Coogler’s third feature, . . . but Black Panther is executed with the confidence of a far more experienced filmmaker. Coogler and his team have conjured a universe and fleshed out its players, one existing (honestly, thriving) in the even bigger cinematic universe that is Marvel. It’s a case of the right story landing in the right hands.”
For Hannah Woodhead at Little White Lies, “watching Black Panther at the film’s European Premiere delivered on a promise Marvel have been making for years: You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“There are different theories about the real-life inspiration for Wakanda,” writes Winona Dimeo-Ediger. “Ta-Nehisi Coates, who authored a reboot of the Black Panther comic series, explained his in this post for The Atlantic’s website. But the actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays Black Panther on screen, told The New York Times that Wakanda is a fictional version of ‘the Mutapa empire of 15th-century Zimbabwe.’ So how does the mythical Wakanda compare to the real-life Mutapa?” She reports for NPR.
Update, 2/11: “Even if it had nothing else going for it, Black Panther would still be the best-looking Marvel movie yet,” writes Wendy Ide for the Observer. It “looks like a particularly excitable Sun Ra album cover. Fortunately, the film doesn’t trade on looks alone. The score, by Ludwig Göransson and Kendrick Lamar, combines primal beats with the growling purr of a pack of big cats.”
Updates, 2/12: “Until recently,” writes Carvell Wallace in the New York Times Magazine, “most popular speculation on what the future would be like had been provided by white writers and futurists, like Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry. Not coincidentally, these futures tended to carry the power dynamics of the present into perpetuity. . . . The artistic movement called Afrofuturism, a decidedly black creation, is meant to go far beyond the limitations of the white imagination. It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space. It is the idea that we will have won the future.”
And for the NYT,Reggie Ugwu talks with Coogler, Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Gurira.
“Twenty years before Marvel’s Black Panther, there was Blade, which the film’s black star, Wesley Snipes, took it upon himself to produce,” writes Justin Charity at the Ringer. And “the original Blade was big, it was successful, and, most importantly, it’s still great. Few comic superhero movies of the past couple decades make an origin story seem rather unlike a chore, and combat seem rather unlike a farce.”
Slate’s Aisha Harris talks with Snipes “about the making of Blade, his vision for a Black Panther movie that never came to be, and Hollywood.” And of course, Coogler’s Black Panther. “Excited is definitely not the word,” says Snipes. “Overcome, overjoyed, clutch the pearls, I am ecstatic about it.”
Updates, 2/14: “Out of a comic book, director Ryan Coogler crafted an important concept about how, from the unification, a post-pan-Africanist global Africanism can emerge,” writes Charles Mudede for the Stranger. “It comes down to this: black Africans and black Americans have to admit their respective failings. Once past that, a glorious future is sight. This is a fantasy. But so is much of the wealth that makes Jeff Bezos the richest man on earth. My feeling is that Coogler is much harder on black Americans than black Africans.”
“In 1952, the psychoanalyst and revolutionary Frantz Fanon observed that in comic books, ‘the Wolf, the Devil, the Evil Spirit, the Bad Man, the Savage are always symbolized by Negroes or Indians,’” notes Jonathan W. Gray, writing for the New Republic. “Between epic set pieces and panoramic vistas Black Panther engages with the pan-Africanist theories that ultimately compelled Fanon to take up arms, joining the Algerian Liberation Front in 1955. During this time, Fanon treated Algerians tortured by the French, and came to believe that colonized peoples had the right to pursue their liberation by any means necessary. But Wakanda has never been colonized, and so interacts with the outside world with a quiet assurance that belies its supposed lack of development. Thus, Coogler’s film draws an explicit distinction between T’Challa’s acceptance of his mandate to maintain Wakanda’s isolationism, and Killmonger’s desire to disseminate Wakandan weapons to dispossessed people of African descent throughout the world, in order to foment a revolution from below. . . . This is a movie whose political theory matches its stunning special effects.”
For Michael Sragow, writing for Film Comment,Black Panther “summons the spirit of 1966, when Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee was still soaking up influences like a super-powered sponge, then carbonating them into fizzy pop elixirs. Coogler, like the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, has guts, flair, and vitality. What his movie lacks in shape and pith it makes up for in gusto and serious make-believe along with some delicious antic interludes.”
At RogerEbert.com, Odie Henderson declares this to be “one of the year's best films, and one that transcends the superhero genre to emerge as an epic of operatic proportions. The numerous battle sequences that are staples of the genre are present, but they float on the surface of a deep ocean of character development and attention to details both grandiose and minute. Wakanda is a fully fleshed-out, unapologetically Black universe, a world woven into a tapestry of the richest, sharpest colors and textures. Rachel Morrison’s stunning cinematography and Ruth Carter’s costumes pop so vividly that they become almost tactile. You can practically feel the fabric of the hat worn by Angela Bassett as it beams in the sunlight on the day her son becomes king.”
For interviews with Carter, see Bryan Adams (The Credits), Tanisha C. Ford (Atlantic), and Nell Minow (RogerEbert.com).
Minow also talks with Coogler: “‘The theme of the film is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Each character has a different answer to that question and only one changes his answer,’ he said. The movie presents this question in a complex and nuanced way likely to leave audiences debating who really is ‘the good guy.’ ‘My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on, and that what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but also has some depth to it.’”
Ryan Gilbey interviews Boseman for the Guardian.
“Coogler works in political jibes, although the film strikes more deeply just by portraying its African characters as powerful in ways that have nothing to do with the intervention of white people,” writes Robert Horton in the Seattle Weekly. “The point is made. What’s missing is a sense of the sheer fun in movie-making that can energize a project like this, even one that might have more at stake than the usual superhero fare. Without that, Black Panther comes across as somewhat more dutiful than groundbreaking.”
“Black Panther costumes—whether the character’s full raiment or just his claws and mask—are on toy store shelves,” notes Kwame Opam in the New York Times. “At best, the character get-ups speak to the enthusiastic embrace of a black superhero. At worst, they could be perceived as an unwitting form of cultural appropriation, which has in recent years become a subject of freighted discourse. What does that dual significance mean for children? And, perhaps more urgently, what does it mean for the parents who will buy the costumes for them?”
Coogler’s first short film is “ground zero for a director whose combination of smart storytelling instincts, technical skill, and sociopolitical savvy has proved formidable in a short period of time,” writes Adam Nayman for the Ringer. “‘I admire filmmakers who let the type of story dictate the cinematic style, dictate the mise-en-scène, dictate how they approach, how they capture, how they work,’ the now-thirty-one-year-old Oakland native told The Dissolve in 2013, and that searching, intuitive sensibility, distinct from both the loose, aimless vibe of mumblecore or the suffocating formalism of micromanager-auteurs, is palpable in 2009’s Locks.”
For Vulture, Granger Willson talks with Evan Narcisse, co-writer of Marvel’s Rise of the Black Panther (4’09”).
Updates, 2/16: “With Black Panther—brimming with female heroes like T’Challa’s personal guard the Dora Milaje, played by some of the biggest stars on the planet—a generation of young women with ravenous appetites to see themselves on screen now look to Wakanda to feed that hunger,” writes Jamie Broadnax for the TIFF Review. “For little girls everywhere, who will soon see Black women as tech-savvy, loyal-hearted, kick-ass heroes in a blockbuster film—a medium that rarely depicts us that way—this will mould who they become.” And she looks back to “the women who led the way to the Dora Milaje.”
“Yes, Black Panther is a moment,” writes Richard Whittaker. “But in twenty years’ time (or 100 more Marvel films), when this moment has passed, it will still be the kind of resonant, rip-roaring crowd-pleaser to which all smart action films should aspire.” Also in the Austin Chronicle,Moisés Chiullán interviews Evan Narcisse.
Jamelle Bouie for Slate: “What drives the film is its pursuit of the idea that arguably defines the superhero genre, best articulated in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And what makes Black Panther unique is that it pursues this in the context of its characters and its setting. It asks not just, ‘What is T’Challa’s responsibility to Wakanda?’ but ‘What is Wakanda’s responsibility to the world?’”
“For once in a Marvel superhero movie, the crucial action sequences aren’t designed to make us drool over the latest automatic weaponry,” writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. “When the climax arrives, it’s not the customary battle royale of outsized, computer-generated hardware. It’s better than that; the conflict between Black Panther and Killmonger, the conciliatory king and the any-means-necessary revolutionary, is rooted in something more primal and elemental.”
“Other superhero movies have dabbled in big ideas—the Dark Knight trilogy most notably, and the X-Men franchise to a lesser degree,” writes the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr. “But their commitments to the moral and political questions they contemplated were relatively haphazard and/or peripheral. The arguments Black Panther undertakes with itself are central to its architecture, a narrative spine that runs from the first scene to the last.”
“Injecting a little Frantz Fanon into a $150 million comic book movie is seriously an ambitious idea that pays off so shockingly well that it elevates the entire enterprise into something that isn’t afraid to both lean into the more absurd elements of its premise (there’s even a rhino fight) and demand to be taken seriously,” writes Matt Lynch at In Review Online.
“While Boseman does what he can with the ever-noble hero,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, “Jordan is so relaxed and so unstiff that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wind up rooting for the baddie when the two of them battle it out. Jordan has swagger to spare, with those rolling shoulders, but there’s a breath of charm, too, all the more seductive in the overblown atmosphere of Marvel. He’s twice as pantherish as the Panther.”
“Outside of the largely stellar cast, much of Black Panther’s success results directly from how rich the textures within the world of Wakanda feel,” writes Conor O’Donnell at the Film Stage. “Any film is the culmination of efforts onscreen and off, but every corner of the frame, and the characters that inhabit it, boast such a complete realization that it’s clear Coogler has impeccable taste in the talent that surrounds him.”
“In 1971, Don McGregor was a proofreader at Marvel Comics,” writes Abraham Riesman, introducing his interview for Vulture. Now, T’Challa “and his film are already cultural icons. And it’s entirely possible that none of it would have happened without McGregor.”
Updates, 2/17: “The temptation of black radicalism, of taking up arms against oppressive white-supremacist powers, is present in Black Panther,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “But its heroes, though entirely sympathetic to the needs and demands of the oppressed, reject it, favoring improvement over revenge, a quest for justice over a new round of injustices. They do so not merely out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather, if the heroes of Wakanda reject the revolutionary radicalism of Killmonger, it’s because they see it as merely the obverse of the white radicalism that’s in real-life power now.”
“Each of Coogler’s three films has been concerned with the legacy of fathers,” notes Kelli Weston, writing for Sight & Sound, “His assured debut Fruitvale Station (2013) unfolds the final day in the life of Oscar Grant III—killed by a California transit police officer in 2009—and much of the film’s emotional weight resides in the wide, unknowing eyes of the daughter Grant will leave behind. Creed (2015) and now Black Panther both follow protagonists burdened by history and haunted by a looming inheritance, men who set out to forge their paths in the name of fallen fathers, soon revealed to be not quite heroes but deeply complicated figures whose sins endure beyond the grave to trouble their sons. How these sons ultimately reckon with the humanity of the men they have made into legends and how powerfully they allow the past to guide their steps will prove the measure of their character.”
“Black Panther and Kendrick Lamar’s music are both inheritors of long lines of race-conscious creativity and symbolism that still feel sprung full-grown from the right-now,” writes Carl Wilson for Slate, “and even five years ago it would have been hard to picture either of them summiting the box office and the pop charts. But in some ways the marriage turns out to be even more perfect.” Wilson elaborates.
Updates, 2/18: “There is a fundamental dissonance in the term ‘African-American,’ two feuding ancestries conjoined by a hyphen,” writes Jelani Cobb for the New Yorker. “That dissonance—a hyphen standing in for the brutal history that intervened between Africa and America—is the subject of Black Panther. . . . The film is not about world domination by an alien invasion or a mad cabal of villains but about the implications of a version of Western domination that has been with us so long that it has become as ambient as the air.”
Andrew Durbin has put together a collection of related reading from the frieze archives.
Ta-Nehisi Coates joins Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham to discuss Black Panther on a terrific episode of Still Processing (60’57”).
Updates, 2/22: “I am struggling to find the words to express my gratitude at this moment, but I will try,” writes Ryan Coogler in an open letter that Zack Sharf’s reposted in full at IndieWire. “Never in a million years did we imagine that you all would come out this strong. It still humbles me to think that people care enough to spend their money and time watching our film. But to see people of all backgrounds wearing clothing that celebrates their heritage, taking pictures next to our posters with their friends and family, and sometimes dancing in the lobbies of theaters often moved me and my wife to tears.”
At The Credits, Bryan Adams notes that Coogler and his team “thought long and hard about having the film end on another scene.” Spoilers, naturally.
Meantime, as Dave McNary reports for Variety, Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are teaming up again on another project, Wrong Answer, with a screenplay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Back to the film at hand. “The feelings of loss and envy running through the film—feelings of anger and betrayal as well, which a representative of black America directs squarely at the inhabitants of this imagined homeland—add a level of emotional complexity to Black Panther beyond anything you might reasonably have expected,” writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. “Certainly you couldn’t have predicted this trait as easily as the standard-issue plot (the usual stuff about smugglers, superspies, and madmen bent on revenge), let alone the checklist of fistfights, spear fights, gunfights, chase scenes, and scenery-wrecking battles. Coogler has met these requirements in full and then some; but also, astonishingly, he has brought an identifiable personal touch to the film, despite its zillion-dollar budget and obligatory cameo appearance by Lee.”
Writing for the Boston Review,Christopher Lebron argues that Black Panther, “a movie unique for its black star power and its many thoughtful portrayals of strong black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men. To explain my complaint, I need to reveal some key plot turns: spoiler alert.” Adam Serwer, writing for the Atlantic, grants that Lebron’s piece is “well-argued,” but counters that Lebron has misinterpreted Killmonger’s character.
“Killmonger’s pursuit of the Wakandan throne brings a thrilling ambiguity to the film’s politics,” writes Doreen St. Félix for the New Yorker.
“It’s not going too far to suggest that Coogler is restaging the debate between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as a superhero adventure,” writes Richard Von Busack in the Pacific Sun.
“Jordan’s bad-guy is one for the ages,” writes Sean Burns. “It’s a towering, ferociously charismatic performance – terrifying in his methods but also not entirely wrong. So many villains in these kind of things just stamp their feet and want to take over the world. Jordan’s Killmonger has a legitimate grievance, one that rattles our heroes, making them re-think and change their ways—unprecedented for a film in a genre like this one.”
“Preservation of the status quo has been the modus operandi of white heroes throughout pop culture history, including Superman, Batman, Buck Rogers, and the Lone Ranger,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com: “express sympathy for other people’s pain and do what you can to alleviate it, but not if it means tearing down the structures that raised you (whatever their flaws) and that claim you as a favorite, exceptional son. Thus the Lone Ranger will battle crooked land barons who run poor settlers off their homesteads, but he’s never going to go the extra mile and reclaim the land for Tonto and his people. Superman might chastise a racist or even beat up Nazis or Klansmen, but he’ll never take the United States government and military to task for institutionalized racism or homophobia. And T’Challa isn’t about to start a war with the world’s superpowers by arming the people they oppress.”
“Just as Doctor Strange (2016) slightly rewrote the Iron Man (2008) template, so Black Panther is essentially the Thor films in cod-Bantu drag, complete with contests between jealous relatives over the throne, a grand but morally flawed patriarch, a hero briefly exiled and robbed of his powers, some star performers of the ‘80s and ‘90s cast as the old guard, and a final fight on a long, flat concourse,” writes Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Films. “And for the most part Coogler barrels along with a reasonable sense of fun and energy, if with very little originality and only a few fleeting moments of true style and wit of staging.”
In the Village Voice,Roy Edroso addresses “the rightbloggers and right-wing columnists, who began by complaining about how black people who looked forward to Black Panther were doing so just to piss off Whitey—and then, when the film turned out to be a success, proceeded to explain how it was really all about Donald Trump and the conservative values he embodies, or some other tedious political shit.”
Black Panther “may, finally, crush a pernicious Hollywood myth: that ‘black films don’t travel,’” writes Alissa Wilkinson for Vox, where she’s got the numbers.
For NPR’s Rodney Carmichael, “it's the soundtrack, which currently sits atop the Billboard 200 after being released one week earlier by Top Dawg Entertainment, that dares to fulfill the film's promise in real time.”
On the new Playback podcast, Variety’s Kristopher Tapley interviews Coogler (42’29”).
Updates, 2/23: “I have been thinking a lot about black utopias lately,” writes Hanif Abdurraqib for 4Columns. “I have especially been thinking about the balance of any utopia for black people, how it would need to rely on both visibility and anonymity to succeed. If I have found my small slice of black heaven, and I want other black people to make their way to it, how do I share the good gospel without inviting the unwanted gaze and influence of cultures that might not have the best interest of my utopia in mind. Black Panther is a movie about this, more than anything else.”
“For all the platitudes about Black Panther’s release being a defining moment for black America to ring true,” writes Kofo Owokoniran for Sight & Sound, “Wakanda has to look and feel like the nebulous idea of the black utopia that nestles unformed in the small spaces deep down in the black consciousness. This is a contradiction that isn’t and perhaps cannot be fully explored, but the lush Afro-futuristic world that Coogler depicts is satisfying enough, and there is a heft to Wakanda in a way that perhaps no other secondary world in Marvel possesses. The theme of duality, of rural life and huge technological advancements that underpins the impossibility that is Wakanda, runs through the film like a current, and each stream is brought to a satisfying conclusion.”
“Black Panther confidently performs the tricky balancing act of writing fully realized women characters into a traditionally male-centered narrative by wholeheartedly believing that they are integral to the storytelling,” writes Slate’s Aisha Harris.
“There is a devastating meta-text to Michael B. Jordan inhabiting an Oakland-native Killmonger,” writes Siddhant Adlakha in the Village Voice. “In Coogler’s debut, Fruitvale Station, Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a real-life Oakland victim of police violence within a white-supremacist system. In Coogler’s follow-up, Creed, a sequel to and cultural recontextualizing of the Rocky series, Jordan’s L.A.-based Adonis struggles between living up to the legacy of a father he was robbed of and creating a legacy of his own. Killmonger is part of this same continuum—the logical, big-picture extension of Jordan’s Oscar and Adonis.”
In the New York Times,Melena Ryzik has a good long talk with costume designer Ruth E. Carter and Concepción de León has a few suggestions for further reading once you’ve seen Black Panther.
Updates, 2/24: In a piece for the Baffler,Kaila Philo notes that “fans now laud the film as an act of representational progress, a shift in the larger cultural conversation, when, quite simply, Black Panther has instead planted its flag in the neoliberal dreamworld and declared, ‘I’m here.’ While the film never needed to make a statement, it also didn’t need to bastardize Black radicalism, or worse, attempt to usurp it, by compelling its actors to parade in Black Panther Party garb during its press tour, or by playing a remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ in its trailer. Still, Black Panther is important because it has launched an Afrofuturist moment in cinema. . . . Coogler’s success has opened the door for true Afrofuturist epics of the kind that may help see this project to fruition. We have a seat at the table; the question remains what we’re going to do with it.”
Writing for the New York Review of Books,Namwali Serpell argues that “the way that Black Panther uses weapons—the way it plays with them and makes them metaphors—becomes far more interesting as it proceeds. It is the crux of the film’s plot and affords some of its most striking visual and dramatic effects. Weaponry also predictably contours the film’s politics, and perhaps less predictably, its ethics.”
“How does one simultaneously argue the joys of recognizing the Pan-African signifiers within Wakanda, as experienced by Africans watching the film, and the limits of Pan-Africanism in practice, as experienced by a diaspora longing for Africa?” asks Rahawa Haile at Longreads.
Artforum’s revived artist Kerry James Marshall’s piece from 2016 on Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther comics.
And from Michelle Woo at the A.V. Club: “Black Panther Challenge, which is a movement to get more kids into theaters to watch Black Panther, offers free online resources to help kids, teens and adults reflect on the film.”
Updates, 3/1:Black Panther’s “narrative is disciplined not just by its embedding in ‘real history’ but in a fictional franchise history whose long-term planning is said to extend to the 2030s, if not beyond,” writes Gerry Canavan for frieze. “And unfortunately—because of the narrative requirements of franchise time—Wakanda will have to continue not to exist after Black Panther . . . What Wakanda would actually mean to the globe—materially, technologically, economically, philosophically, spiritually—would be so radical as to permanently sever the connection between ‘there’ and ‘here’ on which the eternal present of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based. . . . Wakanda's true moment of emergence will always be forestalled. In this dialectical way, what is best about the film is also what is worst about it: the radical historical difference of Black Panther’s Afrofuturist vision will not be allowed to stay either radical or different, will never be allowed to escape the gravitational pull of its bad origin in our real history.”
Ladee Hubbard for the TLS: “There is something ingenious about how the film manages to gesture towards so many issues rarely acknowledged in mainstream action movies—the exploitation of Africa, the painful legacy of colonialism—without seeming like an attack on white people precisely through the use of a black villain. Instead of hiding from the past, the film shifts the terms of how it is represented by focusing on its effects. The legacy of white guilt is decentered and then removed altogether by presenting the conflict as a family matter, an issue between black people themselves.”
Update, 3/2: Writing for the Paris Review,Clint Smith finds himself wondering what W. E. B. Du Bois “might make of the scene unfolding across the country: sold-out cinemas with lines snaking out the door and around the block; the intergenerational thrill experienced by families of every hue ornamented in African garb, an array of spectacular patterns and colors exploding across theater lobbies from Atlanta to Oakland. I imagine Du Bois and his distinctive handlebar mustache, its thick, curled edges accentuating his smile as he observes black children and adults dressed as a cast of characters too often unseen in a mainstream cultural production.” But as Smith goes on to explain, Du Bois’s views on what role art should play were complicated.
Update, 3/3: Filmmaker Shannon Plumb (Towheads) writes at the Talkhouse about taking her thirteen-year-old son. “I was desperate to tell him how important Black Panther was. ‘This is huge,’ I tried again. He responded by telling me he hated when people make a big deal of things like this. A black superhero shouldn’t be ‘momentous.’ It should have been that way the whole time. ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be, Mom.’”
Updates, 3/7: “We were waiting for a film like Black Panther, but Black Panther is not the film we were waiting for,” writes Slavoj Žižek for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “When all sides recognize themselves in the same product, we can be sure that the product in question is ideology at its purest—a kind of empty vessel containing antagonistic elements.” Black Panther confirms “Fredric Jameson’s insistence on how difficult it is to imagine a really new world, a world which does not just reflect, invert, or supplement the existing one. However, the movie offers signs that disturb this simple and obvious reading—signs that leave Killmonger’s political vision radically open.”
“Killmonger isn’t exactly a foil to T’Challa as a typical villain might be, but a complex, tragic figure that represents all the ultimately untenable notions of Western leadership that is literally killing the planet through unchecked capitalism and environmental degradation,” argues Agunda Okeyo in the Progressive (via the Film Doctor). “He also represents Wakanda’s past failings to share their knowledge beyond their borders to the wider global community.” And “extending a hand when you have the resources to do so assures the security of your nation without any shots fired.”
Updates, 3/8: “The view of crime from a purely black perspective can never be the same as one from a purely white, middle-class American one,” writes Charles Mudede, considering both Black Panther and F. Gary Gray’s Set It Off (1996) in the Stranger. “I will go as far as to say that this has less to do with race than with class. Why? You only have to turn back to the Victorian era in Britain to find the answer. What did the middle-classes of that period call the poor? Not the working class or the proletariat. They called them the criminal class. . . . What do the bad guys in Set It Off and Black Panther reveal? That black directors, like the Victorian criminal class, can’t see villainy outside of its social context.”
Coogler is on the cover of the new March/April 2018 issue of Film Comment, and Devika Girish writes about how “the mythology of Black Panther is keenly attuned to the present even as it undoes the past: it is a pre-colonial fantasy all too aware of neocolonial geopolitics.”
Updates, 3/18: “Killmonger is a beautiful fictional creation,” writes Fanta Sylla for Reverse Shot, “the embodiment of this passage from German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time: ‘The person who is en-raged in the highest form enters the world like a bullet enters the battle . . . Wherever rage flames up we are dealing with the complete warrior.’ The type of character I have long been waiting to see onscreen, he’s both familiar and novel, and his presence gives way to moments heretofore unthinkable in mainstream cinema . . . We had seen fictional Angry Black Men before—anger has long been easily associated with Blackness—but rarely has a Black character’s rage been so historically and culturally contextualized and justified in a major studio film. That Killmonger fosters so much passion and debate is understandable. His rage is as magnetic as it is repulsive.”
Racquel Gates and Kristen J. Warner: “After having read one too many think pieces that uncritically celebrated the film both as art and as the very embodiment of joy, without laying out the contextual stakes of these positions, we went to our Facebook pages and vented our frustrations. Taking notice of our takes on the film’s style, production origins, and audience engagement, the editors of Film Quarterly generously offered space here to share some of our thoughts.”
“With $606 million domestic in the bank, Black Panther has already broken a ton of box-office records,” reports Dustin Rowles for Uproxx. “It’s the seventh biggest film in America of all time, and it has a very decent shot at ending its run as the third or fourth biggest film of all time in the United States. It’s poised to pass Marvel’s The Avengers as the biggest superhero movie and biggest MCU movie of all time, domestic. It owns the record for biggest February release, biggest winter release, and biggest President’s Day release. Ultimately, it’s expected to end its run with around $1.25 billion.”
And, as Michael Nordine reports for IndieWire, there will most definitely be a sequel.
Update, 3/19: Writing for Bright Lights Film Journal,M. C. Myers finds Black Panther to be “tireless in grooming its image while becoming its own form of marginalization that postures fatherlessness and disempowerment as problems that can be solved through blockbuster action, satisfying the need for cultural acknowledgment but without addressing it on any terms except those of a superhero. Indeed, the action may not even resolve on the side of right, instead manufacturing conveniences that force the film to side with the guys who were the heroes before we even started.”
Update, 4/3: Writing for CounterPunch, Joseph Tompkins argues that “the feel-good theme of black benefaction parallels the philanthropic discourse of the #BlackPantherChallenge. And in both cases the result is a neoliberal model of charity wherein the mega-rich take selective pity on the chosen poor.”
Update, 4/6: “Movie theaters have been banned in Saudi Arabia since its rulers began enforcing ultraconservative religious laws in the early 1980s, but that’s set to end on April 18 with a gala premiere of Black Panther at a new AMC movie theater in Riyadh,” writes Joshua Keating for Slate. “The choice of movie makes sense, and not only because Black Panther has been the most popular movie in the world this year while also being light on sexual and religious themes that could draw the ire of censors. It’s also possible to interpret the movie in a way—admittedly very different from what its filmmakers intended—that dovetails nicely with the Saudi regime’s recent propaganda.” After all, “for a government looking to change up its image, a Hollywood blockbuster about a benevolent monarch who wants to reform his country but is mindful of tradition, and fights violent extremists with the help of the CIA, couldn’t have been released at a better time.”
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