Why Black Panther is Revolutionary and Why it's not.

This was supposed to be a response from a review I saw on HENDON but this turned into more of a rant. While Black Panther has been touted as a revolutionary film, there are also plenty of reasons why it's not.

I went to see Ryan Coogler’s billion-dollar and record-breaking Black Panther for the second time with my African Mother. I was very interested in seeing what she thought of a western filmmaker's take on an African nation untouched by colonialism. (She gave it a 6.) I was able to get a personalised translation of Wakandian and everyone else got to hear my mum's Zambian ululation.

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of superhero films. In fact, I find them incredibly generic and each new release is a regurgitation of the old tired storylines and tropes. The only superhero film that escapes my contempt is James Mangold’s "Logan" perhaps because it's nothing like your conventional superhero film. But then again, I’m also a sucker for a broken antihero.

Simply put, Black Panther is the Superhero film I always dreamed I would see when I was a kid. I had visions of children in schoolyards being able to play a hero without having to insert “the black version of” before their name to justify their role. Black Panther is Marvel's latest superhero origin story that takes us through a battle for the throne in Wakanda. The film sets the scene with a stunning storybook tale of the beautiful Wakanda, where most of the film takes place, before we're taken to the dark and gritty Oakland, California. The birthplace of the Black Panther Party. If you haven't watched it, Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation in the world thanks to its vibranium but instead of sharing its might, it chooses to hide under the shroud of poverty.

Every visual component of this film was beautifully executed and worked with incredible harmony. The attention to detail was phenomenal, from the research surrounding the cultures that lived within Wakanda, to costume choices and even blurring CG backgrounds more to make them appear more realistic. It was clear that no corners were cut. They put everything into making sure that this film, if nothing else, looked flawless.  While some people might say this is a commercialisation of African culture (I’m looking at you Hendon), I’d say it's a celebration, but it's not without its faults. I think Lupita Nyongo put it best when she said "Hopefully it changes the general idea of what being an African is. Too often times we see Africa as a place that is wanting, and here it's a place that you want to go." This movie has an important role to play in nurturing a pride that is constantly being stripped away from Africans.

The Good

This film is as important as it is beautiful, and for many reasons:

Firstly, Black Panther is a political film both in name and it's effect on the western world. With its huge opening weekend and continued box office success, Black Panther quantifiably disproves the myths that black films don’t sell and black films don’t travel.

The film truly encompasses Afrofuturism, a theory that challenges traditional whitewashed representations of the future, looking at it in the context of black issues and African cultures and theologies. Untouched by the boot of the white man, Wakanda had something other African nations didn't have. Self-determination. We see this in its isolationist economics - (reminiscent of Black Wall Street and some of Malcolm X's ideas) and in the magnificence of a culture that was left to bloom unchallenged. Wakanda has full control of its resources and isn't susceptible to the volatility of an international market.

This was also the first time I saw African culture celebrated and embraced instead of ridiculed and trivialised. I felt a warmness in my heart as I pictured all the African 1st generation kids, at last, being given a western platform (people in Africa make films too) that showed that they could actually feel some pride for where they came from, instead of being plagued by stereotypes and Eurocentric ideas of the land they left behind.

It was refreshing to see a film showing an Africa not characterised by its colonial history, and not depicted under the boot of the white man. It’s not a white postcolonial fantasy nor an “exotic” backdrop for the lives of wealthy non-Africans. The way the film manages to honour ancestral roots and incorporate them into a technological futuristic world seamlessly should be applauded.

Erik Killmonger plays the Malcolm X to T’Challa’s Martin Luther King. A dynamic I very much enjoyed seeing. Klaw or (Klaue depending on which fan you ask) was a highlight. His character, a crooked South African arms dealer, had a presence. I found myself smiling every time Andrew Clement Serkis brought him to life on screen. He had a boyish, cheeky charm but underneath that was a dark, unhinged madman.

Finally, REP👏🏿RE👏🏿SEN👏🏿TA👏🏿TION👏🏿. The representation in this film was brilliant. Not only was I able to watch a western film where the majority of people cast looked like me but for once they didn’t play slaves, impoverished people, child soldiers, crack addicts prostitutes or one of the other many stereotypes we see when black people are shown in film. They played kings, queens, scientists and warriors which has become somewhat of a luxury these days. I was awed by beautiful dark skinned African women who were wonderfully complex, intelligent, strong and three dimensional. They had hopes, dreams, passions, they had agency. I'd argue this film for more feminist than Wonder Woman.

Black Panther isn't an African Film. It's a Black One.

I want to stress that this is not an African film, nor do I believe it was made for African people. In fact, not a lot of people in Africa have even been able to see this film. This is, above all, an American film written by non-Africans (Stan Lee and Coogler) that uses Africa, or an idealised fictional Africa, to prop up American issues. Notice throughout this review I've been using the word, Africa. The film does something in promoting a monolithic view of Africa, I'd even go as far as to say it caricatures it. While it might not use the continent as a backdrop for wealthy white people's lives, it does use it as a backdrop (even a prop) to highlight Black American issues without showing any love to African issues. When the tension between Killmonger and T'Challa travels further than the turmoil and ethnic massacres in the very real Congo, I have to question how revolutionary this film is.

The Bad

Becuase technically this is meant to be a review, I guess I have to say something bad about this film too. You know, for journalistic integrity or something like that. Don't get me wrong. This was by no means a perfect film. It did have a couple of cringe moments, most notably the “WHAT ARE THOOOSE” line, which was a cheap stab at pop culture humour that always ends up being shoved into these kinds of films.

The accents were a little all over the place. We had Kenyan, South African, Nigerian, pick an accent, please. Being very well versed in a variety of accents from the motherland I had quite a high bar. I found T’Challa’s accent a little wooden and it lacked the colour and drama that I’m used to hearing.


The first time I saw this film, it was an experience. While there weren't as many black people in the theatre as there were when I saw Moonlight, the cinema felt alive. The jokes landed, the tension mounted and film had the audience in the palm of its hand. I felt like I was part of something.

This film marks a historical moment and I actually think it'll be up there in the history books with Fergusson but more for its cultural significance that its cinematic brilliance. People bought out cinemas, people took their families, their friends, their communities to see this film. People dressed up, took photos, made reaction videos. It’s a little bit of a cultural phenomenon and everyone wants a piece of the pie. I fully believe this film will be remembered. Maybe not as fondly as it was revered in the moment, but this film has earned its place in American history for something more than just being a superhero film. For what it means to black Americans.

This film could very well mark a cultural shift. With black films like Moonlight, Get Out and Creed showing up we're seeing more opportunities for black art to get the attention it really deserves which will only pave the way for more. Maybe it'll even help African films rise to popularity overseas.

Overall I liked this film, but I'm glad I saw it twice and separate myself from the buzz. As the daughter of African Immigrants, I was always going to have a different opinion of this film. In a world where black issues take on a very different form depending on where you go, this film reminds us to remember and recognise our brothers and sisters in a Pan-African spirit. An idea echoed in the story and in the casting. Let's call a spade a spade. Black Panther is a great superhero film and while I'd love it if this film could manage it, the problems of colonisation and race aren't going to be best tackled in a superhero blockbuster.

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