I’ve loved Superheroes since I was six years old. The first comic I ever read was a Captain America one that my aunt bought me for getting good grades. I fell in love and soon she was taking me to the comic book store every Saturday. Even when it snowed, on Saturdays, we were at the comic book store getting our weekly comics.
I came across the Black Panther comics when I was about ten years old. I’d been obsessed with Cap, The Avengers, and X-Men up until then. T’Challa was a new character to become invested in and I did so quickly; my aunt was thrilled. For years I quietly read Black Panther comics and when Iron Man came out in 2008, I could only pray that eventually one day they would give Black Panther his own movie.
Eventually, has finally arrived.
To start, as a whole Black Panther is really a rather simple movie. It’s got a simple concept and simple plot. But it’s the way the movie is executed that puts it miles above the rest. Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa returning home to Wakanda after the events of Captain America: Civil War. He’s lost his father and is about to become King of Wakanda along with taking up the mantle of The Black Panther. It’s stressful and it’s intimidating but T’Challa has bigger things to worry about when old enemies surface and bring new enemies along with them.
It’s simple. But in that simplicity lies a new way of storytelling that director Ryan Coogler has taken hold of and brought into the spotlight.
This movie is about T’Challa, however, it’s the characters around him that shape the movie. Specifically, the women that surround him. The women of Wakanda can only be described as one thing: flawless. Starting with T’Challa’s mother Ramonda, the Queen Mother of Wakanda. She’s played by the legendary Angela Bassett and although she wasn’t in the movie as much as I would have liked, I’ve got my fingers crossed that the Queen Mother returns for the sequel and we get to see more of her relationship with her children. It’s clear that T’Challa and Shuri love their mother, I’d love to get to see more of the kind of person she is.
T’Challa’s bodyguards, The Dora Milaje, are one of the best parts of the movie. An all-female guard that is always on point. They do not miss a beat when it comes to protecting the king. They are led by their General, Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) who is beautifully fearless and an amazing warrior. Personally, I loved Okoye from the moment I saw her on the screen. Danai brings a huge presence to the character and I found my eyes seeking her out anytime I thought she may appear. Everything about Okoye and the Dora Milaje is appealing to me. From their bald heads (more bald black women in films please!) to their intricate armor and the fact that they fight with spears. To outsiders these soldiers would seem primitive and outdated, no one fights with spears anymore, but that’s what makes them so remarkable. If Marvel’s smart, they’ll give the Dora Milaje a spin-off movie or maybe even a Netflix series. Though they do have comic book series and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it!
When I’d heard that Lupita Nyong’o had been cast in Black Panther, I was excited. Then it was announced she’d be playing Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and I can admit I was a little disappointed. Comic Nakia is not the most stable of people and her obsession with T’Challa is unhealthy borderline creepy. I was worried that she’d be the same way in the movie. I’m extremely pleased that is not the case. Movie Nakia is refreshing and new and empowering. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen a dark skin woman get to be a spy. I can’t describe how good it feels to watch a dark-skinned woman take down the bad guys, fight for what she loves, not be swayed from what she wants to do and be an ultimate spy. A badass spy at that. Not to mention she always has T’Challa’s complete attention. There is no unnecessary love triangle or uncertainty, it’s very clear from the start that T’Challa only wants to be with her. If we’re being honest, Nakia is probably the one who should be ruling Wakanda but I’ll save that for another essay.
While there are great female characters in Black Panther, none are quite as great as T’Challa’s sixteen-year-old sister, Shuri. She has been a badass since her character was introduced in the comics so while I’m not surprised at the love Shuri is getting; what does surprise me is how much life Letitia Wright brings to the character. In the comics, Shuri is there and she’s awesome but we don’t get to witness her awesomeness until much later. In this movie, from the moment Shuri appears on screen she is nothing but amazing. All of Wakanda’s technological advancements have come from her, she is literally making Wakanda a better, stronger nation and she’s still a teenager. So far, all the super geniuses have been two things: white and male. Shuri is the first of her kind and it may be selfish of me but I really wish I was still a little girl right now and was seeing Shuri for the first time. Seeing a character like Shuri is going to change little black girls mindsets, Shuri is going to show them what they can be. She’s proof that you neither have to be a guy or white to create wonderful things and love science. Shuri is going to change the world for black girls and I’m so here for it.
It’s with these strong women around him that T’Challa is able to overcome his hardships. He is able to find the strength and the courage to do what is right. He breaks the mold of tradition and is ready to bring Wakanda into the light, learning from his mistakes and the mistakes of his father. T’Challa took the time to recognize that changes needed to be made and instead of just taking it on by myself, he had the support of those around. The strong black women who are loyal to a fault, it was beautiful.
Marvel even seems to have stepped up the standards of their villains as well. If there’s any place that the studio lacks, it’s the villains. They never seem quite evil enough, they always hold back. However, that’s not a problem with Black Panther’s villain Killmonger. He’s out for blood in this movie and anyone who gets in his way dies. Holding onto a grudge against T’Chaka for killing his father who was T’Chaka’s own brother, Killmonger decides that it’s time for him to rule as king. And he is ruthless about it. Killmonger may be Michael B. Jordan’s best role to date. Behind the intense hatred he has, there’s always an air of sadness and a sense of being lost. You sympathize with Killmonger even when he’s doing the most horrible things because unlike the other Marvel villains, Killmonger is bitter in real relatable ways. His anger is completely justifiable. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they bring him back somehow, someway in Black Panther 2.
With fantastic CGI, stunning cinematography and wonderful writing; Black Panther has set a bar so high for superhero movies that follow. Not only that but it sets a standard for Hollywood as well, they’ve always told us that black led movies don’t do well. And even though us black people have always known it’s because we weren’t given the same opportunities and choices of movies to make, now the whole world will know too. When we are given chances to create, to make and build we soar past what is expected.
Black Panther tells a story we know, a man fighting for his kingdom and for his people but it’s told in a new way. A fresh way that keeps you wanting more. I want more stories with mainly black characters. I want to see more dark skinned women being warriors, being complex and being loved. No movie has ever made me feel as good as Black Panther has and I want everyone to feel this way. We should all be given the chance to see ourselves in movies, everyone deserves to be uplifted.