I went into the press screening of Black Panther feeling sorry for its director, Ryan Coogler! I mean, what would the man behind Creed and Fruitvale Station, both great films, do with arguably, the most anticipated movie in the black community, possibly, ever?
I was more than a little anxious on his behalf. Did he have the experience, and let’s face it, the balls, to really go for it and do justice to a film, which to many, was being seen as the ‘great Black hope’? The fact that it is a Marvel product, one of the biggest movie franchises, is pretty secondary to the hordes driving its popularity, even before its release, many, never having seen a Marvel film before. If that’s you, read this.
Already breaking records, Refinery 29 reported, “Black Panther has sold more advance tickets on US movie ticket site Fandango than any other Marvel film, beating Captain America: Civil War, which Deadline reports earned £134 million during its summer 2016 opening.” No surprises there. The hype has been building steadily since news broke that Marvel Studios would finally be tackling the story of T’Challa, a young African king who takes on the mantle of a super hero and the centuries’ old legacy that comes with it. Many of us said, ‘About time’, after all, the Black Panther character first made its appearance in 1966!
The steady teasers over the last few months, which showed us glimpses of an alternate world where black, and for me even more significant, African people, were so technologically advanced and living harmoniously and contentedly without the ever-present shadow of being ‘other’, only served to whet our appetites more. The rarity of a predominately black cast, and a Marvel-sized budget, gave us hope that this film would be much more than an hour and a half of mindless escapism.
The reality is that I went into the screening wanting to love this film. We all did. In the freezing temperatures of a February work night, an eclectic crowd, made up of all ethnicities, dressed in their finest, many in their best African attire, excitedly made their way into the screening. The atmosphere was more like a rave, a real celebration and anticipation of what the film was going to be. It could have gone either way, with the chance to miss the mark and leave a sour taste, wide open. Which brings me back to my opening sentence. I felt sorry for Ryan Coogler.
I needn’t have worried though. Leaving the screening, I was on a high and buzzing from what I’d watched. Black Panther has shot up to the top of my best film of all-time leader board!
Judging by the reactions of the rest of the audience, I wasn’t alone. Yes, we were an easy crowd, but I was blown away by the visual spectacle and presence of the magnificently beautiful black people on the screen. To coin a popular phrase, “I was not ready”!
So, what’s the film about? Black Panther follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
The stellar cast includes Chadwick Boseman in the titular role, Academy Award® winner Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett and Academy Award® winner Forest Whitaker. It was great to see Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright representing Britain on the cast.
While the charms of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan didn’t go unnoticed *cough, cough*, by far the women in the film were the highlight for me. From the narrative of having a chocolate goddess as the general of Wakanda’s security and first line of defence, Okoye, authentically and majestically played by Danai, to the cheeky yet assuredly brilliant gadget geek, Shuri (Letitia) who brought the comic relief as well as the commanding presence of Queen Lupita, who lit up every frame she was in. The lighting in the film caressed every shade of melanin and the camera loved them all.
True Marvel geeks may notice the lack of a real super villain, but as I mentioned before, this film has transcended being just about saving the world from the big bad antihero. Killmonger, played by Michael B Jordan for me was not ‘the bad guy’, while he was flawed and dangerous, his character had layers of complexities that clearly made him to be the man he is. Authentically played by Michael, you find yourself hoping that he would be rehabilitated.
Make no mistake, you are in for a treat with this film, visually and emotionally. Speaking about why he wanted to make this film, Ryan said: “Just the idea of bringing a story and characters like this to fruition, but at the same time dealing with some of the human issues that make Black Panther a regular guy, was so very exciting. What I mostly look forward to is sharing Black Panther’s story with the audience and seeing how it impacts them. And especially seeing how it impacts little kids, like I was when I first came to know the character in the comic books.”
I feel sorry for Ryan Coogler! He may have peaked too soon.
Want to know who’s who in Wakanda? Watch our character profile…