Comic fans around the world have waited with bated breath to witness the fate of Black Panther, Marvel’s first black-led superhero film. The blockbuster, with its star-studded cast and partially South African soundtrack, could make or break Marvel’s future plans in diversifying its cinematic universe.
It’s an unfair amount of pressure for director Ryan Coogler, but fans will be delighted to know that he pulls Black Panther together with style and composure — and with a passion so evident it seeps into every shot and every line of dialogue.
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The film follows King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of the technologically-advanced Wakanda, a fictional country hidden somewhere in east Africa. When separate forces threaten world war — and to out Wakanda’s true wealth to the world– T’Challa must team up with his ex-lover (Lupita Nyong’o), sister (Letitia Wright), and members of his all-female special forces team to prevent the destruction of the world, their home, and their traditions.
For all intents and purposes, Black Panther is your typical blockbuster: things blow up, jokes bounce around, CGI is in abundance. But Ryan Coogler doesn’t settle for making a typical action film. Instead, the director infuses Black Panther with his own lived experiences, weaving together an intensely personal story of decolonisation and the inner lives of the African diaspora.
Director Ryan Coogler infused Black Panther with his own lived experiences
Black Panther uses the fantastical to tell the story of a difficult reality — and it succeeds in two parts. The first is, obviously, for black people. Black Panther allows the under-represented to not only see themselves on screen, but to see themselves as strong, loving, and intellectually complex. The film also embraces Africa’s deep cultural heritage, pulling languages from South Africa, waterfalls from Zambia, names from Nigeria.
The second part is that Coogler makes the inner struggles of black people around the world accessible to a large audience. The familiar fantasy of the Marvel universe merges with conversations non-black people may never have considered. How does technology battle tradition? What does it mean to ignore the racialised struggles of those like you? Black Panther offers intellectual nuance for these questions, providing a natural avenue for further discussion.
The film is a well-written blockbuster that tackles themes high-budget films rarely blink at
The film further proves the power of gifting directors the room to tell their own stories. Black Panther is a well-written blockbuster that tackles themes high-budget films rarely blink at. What results is a fascinating, refreshing, and long-lasting film that feels like nothing ever made before. And while Marvel can financially survive off the likes of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok — both good films — the likes of Black Panther allows it to be so much more.
This is nothing new: Patty Jenkins was praised for her representation of DC’s Wonder Woman, Jordan Peele found box office success and critical acclaim for his social horror Get Out. Audiences are paying for films that offer authentic perspectives that Hollywood used to shy away from.
It’s an exciting prospect; if Coogler can make a Marvel film like Black Panther feel personal — intimate, even — then maybe the infinity-long slate Marvel and DC are preparing for might not be so terrible. In fact, I quite look forward to it.