Columns, Opinions

Richardson ’20: Why Black Panther is a must-see

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Marvel’s “Black Panther” came out last weekend, and it lived up to its highly anticipated greatness. The excitement around the movie stems from two factors: Audiences get yet another heart-racing movie from Marvel, but more importantly, its themes, images and overall portrayal of Blackness are beautifully moving. King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of the fictional African country Wakanda arrives at a moral crossroads when his country, under the control of a usurper, is about to start a world war. In a dramatic turn of events, T’Challa is able to regain control and return order to his land and the world at large. Notably, the role of Black women is a key component of why T’Challa is so successful in his endeavors. For its game-changing plot and depiction of women, “Black Panther” — released during Black History Month — is a must-see for everyone and a huge milestone for the Black community.

For starters, the Black women in this movie straight-up handle business. Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sister, sustains the country with her scientific advancements and use of technology to create the country’s energy, weapons and clothing. Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and commander Okoye (Danai Gurira) — in addition to the army of Black women warriors who fight alongside the king — practically constitute T’Challa’s spine, given how much support and protection they offer him. At the same time, both Nakia and Okoye retain their own ambitions and stick to their own convictions in their service to the king. They consistently choose their own principles throughout the movie and do not waver just because His Highness requests something of them. This self-assertion is extremely important because, while service is a pillar of their role to the king, the women of “Black Panther” also provide indispensable advice and guidance to T’Challa. Nakia and Okoye serve as a reminder to all women, especially Black women, that you don’t have to give up on your own personal goals to make a difference in the grand scheme of your country. Plus, it’s always nice when the lead women keep their clothes on and have more than three lines in a movie because women are more than objects and they can contribute more to the story than their subservience.

Another defining feature of “Black Panther” is its depiction of a prosperous Black country. Wakanda represents the goals that any sane modern-day country would try to achieve — a secure border, a sustainable and eco-friendly energy source and intelligent, beautiful and hardworking citizens. Plus, Wakanda flips the current social construct known as race and makes its white visitors, or all visitors really, come second to the Wakandan default, Black people. The interactions with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) provide an opposing view into the matrix of domination that usually inflicts hardships on Black folks. At one point, a Wakandan straight-up tells Agent Ross not to speak, which is something no Black person is accustomed to telling a white man in a position of power. All of this is to say that Wakanda changes the power dynamics of race, presents the possibilities of Black innovation and entertains the childish thought of “what would’ve been” if twelve to seventeen million bodies weren’t captured from Africa and entrapped in the transatlantic slave trade.

What’s perhaps as important as the  portrayal of Black people killin’ the game in “Black Panther” is the timing of the movie. A February 2018 release date — during Black History Month, in a period of political unrest and renewed interest in racial equality — says almost as much as the two-hour movie itself. The movie’s title pays homage to the well-known Black Panther Party that historically sought equality for Black folks. Make no mistake, Marvel’s release of a majority Black-casted movie centered around a powerhouse country of Black people during Black History month is a well-calculated marketing strategy. “Black Panther” proved profitable: Its opening weekend broke box office records with $242 million in revenue, which makes it the biggest launch of a solo superhero movie of all time. This method of using Blackness to make money is not new and is far from over. Usually, I’d be against this type of exploitation, but Marvel has proven that movies with Black leading actors and actresses — that uplift Black women, address the rifts between Africans and African Americans and showcase Black joy — can make nearly a quarter billion dollars in one weekend. “Black Panther” has shown that representation is profitable, and that there is no economic excuse for films that lack people of color or lowball the people of color they do portray. The lesson for Hollywood is clear: Paying for Blackness and representation is worth it.

Themes such as these are central to “Black Panther,” and they are presented so effectively because Black people were calling the shots at every stage in the film’s production. (There are several specific lines throughout the movie that will jump out as being from the pen of a Black person.) The director, Ryan Coogler, is a Black man who brought together mostly people of color as his crew: Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack, Ruth Carter designed the costumes and the list goes on. “Black Panther” is a clear example of the fact that, when Black people hold decision-making positions in movies — or in the world at large — the end products turn out better. The moral of the story is simple: Go watch the movie, if for nothing else than to see images of strong Black women, depictions of a fervent Black country and a classic Marvel superhero story.

Randi Richardson ’20 can be reached at randi_richardson@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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