Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther: The Most Meaningful Marvel Movie

Mrs. Spew and I went to the first showing of Black Panther last night, and we were not disappointed.  Since most folks have not yet seen it, only go beyond the break if you don't mind being spoiled or were able to see the movie pretty quickly.

The movie is more than a successful comic book action movie, but on that score alone, it is quite good.  The action scenes, particularly the car chase, are very well done.  The hero is well drawn and so is, unlike more than a few Marvel movies, the villain.  Or villains.  When cast, folks were bummed that Michael B. Jordan was the bad guy, as they thought he would be an excellent Black Panther.  And, yes, maybe he could have been, but he was great as the upstart. 

If this movie was not so much about race, its positive portrayal of women would have been pretty ground-breaking on its own.  Women play the role of super-spy, high tech inventor, and leader of the presidential guard or army (the movie is not entirely clear on what the general is the leader of, maybe a repeated viewing is in order).  It was presented in an of course kind of manner--of course, the advanced tech society of Wakanda has women treated equally as men, with both men and women in roughly equal numbers serving on the executive council or cabinet.  But, yes, there is a King in Wakanda so there may be limits to this, but, in the movie, women are well-respected. 

The movie also has a smidge of civilian-military relations: what does the military do after a contested leadership process?  It follows the new leader UNTIL it is revealed that the contested process is not yet over.  Hmmm.  So, I could have fun playing with that.

BUT what is most important in this movie, besides the powerful representation of Africa and of black people, are the stakes involved.  There is basically a three-sided competition in the movie between three potential ways for Wakanda to be, which are, of course, also three different ways that African-Americans can live: separate, violent, or engaged.  That is, Wakanda's history is one of living apart, that fear of being oppressed has meant centuries of secrecy and, crucially, not helping others despite their own technological superiority.  With a new King, the question is whether to continue that or to arm those who have been oppressed and fight back hard, which is what the upstart proposes.  Or, ultimately what happens--that the new King chooses to have his advanced country try to use its resources to help those of African descent (and maybe others too, it is not clear). 

And this three-sided debate resonated with me because it seems like a debate African-American leaders had in the 1960s--to live apart, to engage in violence or to overcome the divisions.  With Trump and white supremacy ascendant these days, calling for an MLK approach may actually be harder, as the progress seems not only to have been too damn slow but, alas, reversible.  Still, in hard times, one's values matter more, and so I appreciated the inevitable (for Hollywood) outcome of engagement and reaching out, rather than separation or violence. 

Having that debate of substance between the hero and the main villain gives this movie a meaning at its heart that is far more important than any other Marvel movie (although the X-movies occasionally have tolerance at their heart) I can recall.  So, the movie may not have had as much amazing action as some, and its humor was excellent but not as abundant as others (this is no Guardians or Ant-Man), it packs a greater punch for all the ground it breaks and for how very meaningful the movie was and will be.


Anonymous said...

The two approaches of how to rule Wakanda and how to share the Vibranium tech are along with the relationship between Black Panther and Killmonger is based on the same dynamics and relationship between MLK Jr. and Malcolm X

Unknown said...

watch32 - A great addition to the MCU. Great acting, beautiful visuals and some intense action. First impressive thing I noticed was its rich attention to detail in world building and its characters. My only criticism, I would have like to have seen more of the Killmonger character, as I feel they didn't go far enough with him. Over-all, this is a fun and enjoyable movie with action, comedy, drama. There are some complex social political overtones mixed in, but it never feels heavy handed, and I feel that the over-all message is positive for humanity as a whole. If this type of movie isn't your cup of tea, fair enough, but if you are on the fence about watching due to pre-conceived notions about its content and message, I would recommend you give it a try, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

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