Throughout the month of February, Full Circle Cinema celebrates Black History Month by revisiting films told by prominent Black filmmakers. We will reflect on an extraordinary history filled with moments both triumphant and tragic in the still ongoing fight for equality and justice for all. Through the sharing of stories, we pay tribute to the storytellers.
“You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing film franchise in history. The movies span the globe and travel the cosmos. Moreover, they all fit together in one shared universe, culminating in epic crossovers and surprising cameos. However, many fans find that it’s the solo outings that stand out the most. Self-contained, complete stories featuring badass moments as well as tender, personal character growth help audiences connect with larger-than-life characters. Within the MCU, there is no better example of that than 2018’s Black Panther.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, the groundbreaking film stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa AKA the Black Panther. Following the devastating events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the film follows T’Challa as he mourns his father, transitions into the role of King of Wakanda, and struggles to find his place in the world. Joining Boseman is an absolutely stacked ensemble cast including Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. With seven nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, including the first nomination for Best Picture for a superhero film, Black Panther is the first Academy Award win for the MCU. Moreover, the movie touts over $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office and still sits as the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time.
Positioned as the direct lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther introduces the world to the beauty that is Wakanda. The production design creates a sprawling African nation hidden away from the rest of the world. The dazzling environment immediately sets the film apart from its MCU counterparts, often set in the United States. However, while the look and feel of the film feel special, it’s all a part of the mission to tell a singular story. The story of T’Challa. When confronted by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a cousin he did not know existed, the young king must decide how he chooses to rule. Will he continue a trend of secrecy or will he allow his nation to step away from the shadows?
One aspect in which Black Panther shines is the way the film’s narrative treats the main characters. For example, Jordan’s performance as Killmonger is gritty and, at times, savage. However, his actions feel justified once given the chance to explain them. While villains can be painted as murderous for the sake of being murderous, Killmonger’s character is in the spotlight enough for the viewer to sympathize and possibly even cheer him on.
On the other hand, T’Challa’s quasi-love interest in the film is anything but two-dimensional. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is a fiercely independent warrior unwilling to settle down as T’Challa’s queen. In some ways, her character motivations are similar to Killmonger’s. The villain wants to take Wakanda’s considerable resources to help Black people by inflicting damage on those who mean them harm. Meanwhile, Nakia wishes to use the same resources to help others and protect the country. These two perspectives force T’Challa to step away from tradition and unveil the nation for the world to see.
With a cast featuring mostly Black actors, the movie’s place in history is solidified. The first Black-led MCU film brings together one of the most impressive Black casts ever assembled. Moreover, it’s significant to note that all of T’Challa’s inner circle are women. Especially when you consider T’Challa’s father telling him to surround himself with people he trusts. The young king’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and right-hand warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira) stand by T’Challa throughout the film. In fact, they are arguably the biggest reason for his success. When the titular hero goes missing following a duel with Killmonger, a small group of women, plus the always charming Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett K. Ross, are the ones to search for him. Not only does Black Panther give young Black children a hero to look up to, the film also gives young women of any race fine examples of strong, empowered women in the Marvel canon.
Black Panther remains one of Marvel’s most engaging films. The action layered with the overall heartfelt message of triumph over tragedy resonates with the masses. The box office gross, as well as the historic Oscar nominations themselves, lend to the film’s well-earned place in cinematic history. However, the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman at such a young age in 2020 makes the film even more special. Boseman’s talent and commitment are immortalized in one of the most popular franchises of all time. While the future of the character in the MCU remains to be seen, Black Panther stands on its own as a wholly unique and impactful cultural phenomenon. – Christian Hubbard
In honor of the unconscionable murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black lives, please take a moment to visit the Black Lives Matter homepage and see how you can help. Spread awareness!
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