Now more than ever, the question of black representation in popular entertainment has been an increasingly heated conversation. Ever since 2016’s “Moonlight” and 2017’s “Get Out,” many have been hoping that black representation in film would get better, seeing as many have complained about the lack of minorities in leading film roles. With the release and massive opening weekend success of Marvel’s newest film “Black Panther,” it looks like that trend will continue. But not only is this a win for more representation, it is a great movie in its own right.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” tells the story of the African nation Wakanda. Built by four tribes atop a field of Vibranium, an extremely sought-after natural resource for its many applications in the fields of technology and weaponry, the tribe has been using the metal for centuries to build the most developed and technologically advanced society the world has never known. Its ruler, King T’Chaka, died in a terrorist attack at a U.N. meeting and is succeeded by his son, T’Challa, who also becomes the Black Panther as a tradition within Wakanda. Tasked with ruling his nation, T’Challa is also now forced to deal with the world around him and how Wakanda’s isolation from the world has left many other countries, including other African countries, struggling to help their own people.
Black Panther is everything people were expecting from it and more. Not only does it provide a unique entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, but it also uses its main character Black Panther and the story of Wakanda as a way to address historical issues, such as slavery or apartheid states like South Africa whose history still affect black people today. Take colonialism for example.
As one of the central focuses of the movie, Wakanda is a rich, developed country surrounded by exploited African countries. In this case, the only reason Wakanda is so prosperous is because of Vibranium. Both Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend, and Eric Killmonger, the film’s main antagonist, suggest that Wakanda would be better off using the resources they have to help those around the world and other African countries, exploited by European countries, rather than hiding their wealth from the world. Instead of having the movie solely Black Panther versus the presumed main antagonist Klaue, it forced T’Challa to confront the decisions of his country’s past and reconcile those decisions with his current predicament. It creates a beautiful commentary on the history that affects not just Africans, but also black people living in other countries.
Actor Chadwick Boseman does a fantastic job of making T’Challa seem real, as do all of the film’s cast. The chemistry he shows alongside his female co-stars—Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye and Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri—makes the characters not only more believable in their roles, but it also makes the smaller, more comedic moments hit that much harder. For example, when Shuri points at T’Challa’s old school sandals and yells “What are those,” a reference to a popular meme.
The film’s music was also a great match for the film, both the movies own original score as well as a second collection of music that was produced by the music label Top Dawg Entertainment for the film. The well-researched soundtrack has many songs that are inspired by traditional African Rhythms that match the setting of Wakanda. Much of the film’s own score is also doused in a bit of modern-day trap production, with lots of high hats and heavier base, like in the song “Killmonger’s Theme.” Combined with the more progressive African Rhythms, this mix of old and new gives Wakanda the more modern feel that its story was going for. The album from TDE also featured a plethora of fantastic songs, including “All the Stars,” “Pray for Me” and “Bloody Waters.”
All of the elements that make up “Black Panther” culminate into both a fantastically written and culturally relevant film. It is a reminder that in order to improve, looking back to the past is not only important but also essential to improving the world around them.