A Date with Black Panther

Ever since his first on-screen debut in Captain America: Civil War, fans of Black Panther have been eagerly awaiting his own solo movie in which his kingdom, the African nation of Wakanda, and his role as King T’Challa would be explored.  Disguised as a third-world country, Wakanda is more like a utopia, where their hyper-advanced technology and tribal African traditions are melded together, and the country is set on protecting and thriving on its own without the interference of other countries.

The music, the location settings, and the costumes are all so amazing. Everything, from the vast African fields to the majestic waterfalls, was shot beautifully with so much vibrance and life. The African inspired costumes were so visually stunning, with bold, bright prints and many traditional African elements, including intricate beads, colorful face paint, and earrings and nose rings of different sizes, shapes, and color.  The music was my favorite element of the movie, which were a mix of tribal African beats, chants, and melodies as well as electronic jams and rap tracks, mixing both traditional and futuristic elements into the soundtrack, just like Wakanda itself.

But while the audio and visual elements were perfect, the dynamic cast of characters played by very talented actors really made the movie work.  Added to the amazing  fact it is a nearly entirely African and African-American cast, the characters themselves all have stories, points of view and motivations, all proof of good story writing.

King T’Challa, the Black Panther himself, was awesomely played by Chadwick Boseman.  But it was the women in the movie who stole the show for me. Following the recent Hollywood trend of putting strong female role models in the spotlight, the women of Black Panther did not disappoint.

First, we have the kick-a** all-female army of warriors, the Dora Milaje, with the proud duty of defending Wakanda and its throne. Led by the powerful General Okoye (Danai Gurira), they all stand out due to their shaved heads, brightly-colored armor, and extreme loyalty to their nation and the throne. Next, we have Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a strong and street-smart Wakandan spy and Black Panther’s would-be girlfriend, dedicated to standing by T’Challa, his family, and the people of Wakanda, while acting as an advisor and inspiration to the young king.  Then there is the regal Queen mother Ramonda, played with a refined yet intense air by veteran actress Angela Bassett.  Finally, we have Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister and princess of Wakanda.  Though just a teenager, she’s the head of research and development of Wakanda, and she brings revolutionary tech to life with her intelligence and imagination.  This powerful cast of female characters proves that women can not only be beautiful and compassionate, but also strong, smart, wise, cunning, and intelligent at the same time.

What I appreciate about the women of the movie is that they are not T’Challa’s sidekicks. Here they are his most trusted advisors, his partners and most loyal companions.  They are not relegated to just the role of love interest or eye candy.  They are essential to the plot and serve the story well. The women of Black Panther show how powerful women really are, not just in their characters, but also the way they, as actors, were able to play their characters with dedication and passion, plus the countless hours of hard work and training they must have had to be able to nail their fight scene choreographies perfectly.

Great female characters aside, though, it was the strong conflict and storytelling that really sold the movie for me.  (SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can stop reading here.)  It all starts with Wakanda’s potential to help other people in need. They have the technology and resources, like advancements in medicine and energy, to change the world for good. They can go out of hiding and share their technological advancements with the world. But what if that technology was placed in the wrong hands, especially Wakanda’s highly advanced weapons? While Wakanda only uses their weapons to defend themselves, these could land into the hands of the wrong people, in foreign governments or otherwise.

Every Wakandan king before T’Challa turned his back on the problems of the world to keep his people safe, and to flourish together as one nation. Wakanda and the people’s way of life has always been the first and only priority.  All the main characters have a strong sence of patriotism and love for country that drives them to serve Wakanda selflessly.  On the other hand, their nation has also turned its back on their fellow Africans as well.  During the time the slave trade was flourishing, and masses of Africans were being sold into slavery, the Wakandans decided to hide instead of liberating and fighting for their neighbors. They “hid in the shadows” instead of taking a stand for fellow Africans, for fellow human beings, since they  feared  being exposed to the outside world.

It is a dilemma that not only the Black Panther faces, but also leaders of other nations of our world today: shall we prioritize our own interests before those of  anyone else?  Or do we help make the world a better place, together?

King T’Challa said, “The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. After all, we are all part of one tribe.” Whether in the Marvel Universe or in real life, we are all human beings.  Standing united to face all the challenges and disasters the world can throw at us is the only way we will be able to survive and thrive together. No matter where we come from, what language we speak, or what we look like, we all matter. We are all in this world together, and only together can we make it the way we all want it to be.

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