Black Panther

The first tweet I noticed on my Twitter feed this morning was from W. Kamau Bell

#BlackPanther is a Rorschach test. It’s easy to say that you loved it. But when you ask people why they loved it you may end up thinking to yourself, “WERE WE EVEN WATCHING THE SAME MOVIE???”

I haven’t stopped thinking about Black Panther since seeing it on Monday. And after reading W. Kamau Bell’s tweet I decided I need to join the conversation.

First, just to get this out of the way — Marvel Studio movies are not a genre that particularly appeal to me. I haven’t seen any other films in this collection except the first IronMan movie, and while I didn’t especially dislike that film, it didn’t resonate with me in the way Black Panther did. As an entertainment, Ryan Coogler’s film is masterful. The visual world he creates is stunning. There’s enough action to satisfy the expectations of the genre, but little of the violence is especially gratuitous. The cast is exceptional, and as a former actor I stand in awe of their work. But the strength of the film goes beyond entertainment.

For me, the connection to Oakland and the social justice movement first launched in the 60s by the Black Panthers of Merritt College was at the core of what this film is about. I don’t know much about Ryan Coogler except what I’ve seen in his films and the fact that he was born in Oakland and grew up in the east bay. He’s too young to have experienced to formation of the Black Panthers first hand, but his film is a reimagining of their story. A celebration of blackness and the nobility of the people first to emerge from the cradle of civilization.

By bookending the film with scenes in Oakland, Coogler’s story speaks to the experience of Black America and to the neutralization of black power by a white society that violently ripped apart black nations for the purpose of enslavement. Black Panther the film riffs on the core of the Black Panther movement in Oakland. The Panthers were the vanguard of the “Black is Beautiful” movement. Their breakfast programs, and the armed presence of Black Panther foot solders who attempted to confront police violence against the black community was a movement that also echoes in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in DeRay McKesson’s signature, I love my blackness and yours. I saw this film as a reflection of the ascendence of black wholeness in a society that has continuously and systematically marginalized black culture and minimized black experience.

Where the film really excels for me is in the treatment of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. His ultimate motivations, like his father’s, were noble, and challenged the Wakandan isolationism. Jordan navigates the Killmonger role, avoiding the pitfall of flattening him into a cutout villain, instead turning him into a sympathetic influence, forcing the Wakandans to re-think their world view. Ultimately it’s his influence, and that of his father’s life in Oakland, that drives the Wakandan echo of the Oakland Panthers in the film’s denouement.

Was that the movie you saw? Ping me on twitter if you have a response. @mdh.

Tuesday February 20, 2018 — Mark —