Can one movie really change how we think about a genre?
Black Panther is an incredible film. The action, the witty dialogue, the sense of camaraderie present in this story is Marvel’s most well-rounded to date. Not only is it funny, sleek, tech-savvy and filled with heroes you can’t help but root for, but it is also a timely story. Black Panther deals with themes of isolationism, loyalty, pain, loss, aggression, and fear, and director Ryan Coogler manages to tackle all of these things and make it come out feeling uplifting and refreshing when you leave the theater. While being true to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this film is also the most thought-provoking film made by Marvel Studios.
Not surprising when you listen to the cast and filmmakers talk about their insights into this project. They are not only talented at their craft, but they are all intelligent and articulate and passionate about this film and these characters. Take for example Chadwick Boseman who played T’Challa (Black Panther). When asked if Shuri (Black Panther’s sister) was smarter than T’Challa, Chadwick teased, “I allow it.” But then clarified what he meant. He said, “So you know, my older siblings, they raised me. And so to a certain degree when I say, you know, ‘I allow her’ – I’m mean it like, you see the genius that is inside the people that come after you. And if you have an ancestor around, they’re looking at you like, ‘I know you’re looking up to me, but we’re looking up to you.’ That is an African concept.” Just the way he shared that story gave me goosebumps. Thinking about this ancestral connection to one another and this concept of loving one another so much that you nurture other people’s talents even if it means sacrificing your own for the greater good. Wow.
When asked about T’Challa speaking with an African accent and why that was important to him, Chadwick responded, “When you’re trained (as an actor) you’re trained very often from a European perspective. What is considered great or classical is very often British and it’s certain writers and I happen to come from a background that does not believe that, you know. I went to Oxford to study, but I went to Howard and we were taught to respect our writers and our classics just as much and believe that it takes the same skill level and same technique and sometimes techniques that are a little bit different to pull that off. And so I think you have to be, you have to tell the stories and be true to yourself. As an artist the intonations and melodies inside an African accent are just as classical as a British one or a European one and that all of the emotions and aspects of a character can be shown and expressions can be shown through that accent and we have to take this opportunity to show that and he (T’Challa) just wouldn’t, if he had never been conquered, if his ancestors had never been conquered and he’s never been conquered and Wakanda is what it is, he doesn’t have to go to Oxford to study. He doesn’t have to go to Cambridge or Yale or any place to study. He actually got his education at home and he would not then assimilate a language that is the colonizer’s language in order to speak to his people. So he had to speak with an African accent.”
When asked about the latitude Marvel gave director Ryan Coogler to pursue his vision for the film, he said, “When I came and sat down with Marvel…I was very honest with Kevin. And you think of Marvel like this big, huge studio. It’s like, oh, man, like the biggest studio in the world right now. But it’s really just Kevin and his two friends. That’s really all it is.” But Ryan went on to share that Kevin pretty much embraced Ryan’s vision and just gave him the go ahead to pursue it. “He’s all about making something that entertains people (Kevin Feige); you know what I mean, that works as a piece of entertainment that leaves you with something to think about. He was very encouraging and I was getting notes while we were working on this about making it more interesting, make it more personable and be able to push it.”
Kevin added a little bit to that. He wanted to be bold like the Panther’s original creators. “The truth of the matter is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the whole Marvel bullpen created Wakanda and created T’Challa and created Black Panther and made him a smarter, more accomplished character than any of the other white characters in the mid 1960s. So they had the guts to do that in the mid 1960s. The least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told the way it needed to be told and not shy away from things that the Marvel founders didn’t shy away from in the height of the civil rights era.”
Lupita Nyong’o talked about the supportive and hopeful atmosphere about this film and the encouraging message it offers when she was asked about what she hoped people would walk away with after seeing Black Panther. She said, “Well I would say what I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique and we all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other. And I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female this idea. I think often times in movies we fall into that trap where women, there’s very few of us and then we are against each other. There’s a competitive spirit and stuff like that and this film freezes all that. And we see women going about their business and supporting each other, even arguing with each other, you know; having different points of view, but still not being against each other and I think that’s extremely important and in so doing the fact that in this film there’s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation and we see women along side men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential, yeah.”
There are films that make an impact on you on multiple levels and Black Panther did that for me. But to hear the meaning, the passion, and the reason why these various artists made the film and what they hope people see in it made it even more so. I hope that no matter how you identify yourself, you will see this movie. I know you’ll see a bit of yourself in it and find hope.